Task automation and driver training

Driving a vehicle is a complex task that is composed of several subtasks that have to be performed simultaneously. Car driving is THE typical example of multitasking, and the most important reason why traffic accidents have increased during the last couple of years is distraction while driving mainly because of the use of smart phones. This has been studied with traffic psychology applications in driving simulators.

As driving experience increases during the first 2 years after the driving licence was obtained, driving tasks are automated more and more because of practice in those tasks. Consistent practice is the only way to promote task automation. This is a general rule for all skill acquisition, not only for car driving but also for learning to play an instrument or learning to become a good foodball player.

During traditional driver training, practice is generally not enough to become a good and safe driver. So, in the first 2 years after becoming a licenced driver, accident risk is the highest. That’s one of the reason that, especially male, young drivers are so over-represented in the accident statistics.

And this is why a car driving simulator can be such a big help during driver training: training in a driving simulator offers much better opportunities for consistent practice than the process of learning to drive in a regular learner vehicle with a driving instructor. Several subtasks such as steering, lane changing, approaching an intersection, negotiating a roundbout, car following, entering a highway, gear shifting, etc. can be practiced tens of times during half an hour in a simulator lesson while this is not possible in a real car on the public road.

Imagine what happens when an inexperienced driver enters the road:

  • look far ahead to anticipate on possible risks
  • change gears when RPM is too high
  • estimate road curvature to check is speed must be reduced
  • check the rear view mirrors before a deceleration
  • check the speed limit and dashboard meters
  • check immediate surrounding to watch for hazards
  • steer accurately to stay in the designated lane
  • etc

And all this simultaneously.  In driving 3 levels of behaviour are referred to:

  • operational performance: steering, using the pedals and actuators (indicators, etc)
  • tactical behaviour: controlling speed and safety margins such as a safe headway
  • strategic behaviour: route navigation and way finding

Young and inexperienced drivers find it sometimes extremely difficult to do all those things at the same time. If individual tasks are sufficiently practiced they become automated and thus require almost no attention. The limited amount of attention available can then be assigned to hazard detection and anticipation and this makes dring much more relaxed and much safer. During driving simulator lessons, all individual driving tasks can be practiced extensively, resulting is fast task automation, and thus more relaxed and safer driving when the trainee starts to drive in a learner car on public roads.

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