Driving simulator experience - daveyjp
Over the past month I have spent 6 hours in a driving simulator at Leeds University as part of a research project looking at the continued automation of driving and the effect on drivers.

The simulator is very sophisticated and akin to one used for pilot training. The car you ?drive? is a Jag S type automatic housed in a dome. The engine, bonnet etc have been removed, but the rest of it is intact. Speedo and rev counter work as do warning lights, indicators repeater light etc.

After 20 minutes of accompanied training to get used to the controls - the steering is a little light and there isn?t much feeling of acceleration - you are left alone to drive the tests. You do believe you are driving a car with the added bonus that you can drive at whatever speed you like ? I don?t advise much over 85 though as you do get thrown around the bends.

Ahead and around both sides of the dome is a large wrap round screen showing the road and surrounding landscape. To achieve a rear view the mirror housings are embedded with flat screens and the rear window of the car has a projected image which can be viewed through the mirror. The only downside with the set up is the definition of the large screen so it?s quite grainy and appears out of focus. If this could be HD it would be very realistic.

The drive is 30 miles of typical motorway with about 6 junctions along the route.

Over the course of the two visits I did six drives of the same route. I can?t describe in great detail what you do on each trip as others may be doing the same tests. I can say there is no intention to trick you and every situation you come across is very realistic ? even the BMWs and 4x4s tailgate you and lorries pull out without indicating just as you approach!

The first visit is more about you as a driver and how you are affected by the automated systems in the car. Activities are undertaken by the driver and road conditions are ?normal? with three free flowing lanes with traffic becoming heavier as you progress with the test.

The second visit involves the driver playing a game which requires you to speak to someone over a hands free connection. The game is played by children so not difficult, but it is very thought intensive and the road has more hazards to make the test more interesting. There are no prizes, so no incentive to get the task right.

It was during these tests where it confirmed what I always thought and what we are told ? doing anything mentally intensive and driving safely is extremely difficult and in certain situations virtually impossible without compromising safety.

Sharing thought process between driving and the task is very difficult and you can?t give full attention to both all the time.

When I noticed a hazard I went straight into thinking about driving, but as a result once the hazard had passed I had no clue about the task ? I had completely forgotten what I was supposed to be doing!

The other side of the coin was demonstrated vividly.

I was concentrating so hard on the task I completely missed two of a standard set of 200 yd countdown lane closure signs with the inevitable result ? I ?crashed? into a queue of traffic whilst doing about 70 mph.

I was asked a series of questions about the drive and I failed to answer half of them. Not that I had forgotten, I had simply no recollection of what the question was asking about.

A period in one of these really does bring home just how mentally challenging driving is and how difficult it is to undertake intensive, but not necessarily complicated activities whilst driving. For me this does include using a hands free mobile for demanding conversations as I crashed while using a hands free system to play a child?s game.

If you get the chance to go on a similar driving simulator snap up the chance.
Driving simulator experience - NowWheels
Very interesting report, Davey.

Your experience confirms what has been reported before about how a demanding phone conversation distracts a driver ... but it would be very interesting to know if any studies have been done about how much distraction is caused by a less-demanding conversation.

I can imagine a huge difference in distraction between between a quick "Hi, I'm driving over now, should I collect X along the way" and an angry row with a partner. But I wonder if any studies have tried that to make sort of comparison?

When I'm driving, I'm quite prepared to tell passengers to shut up while the road requires particularly concentration, or to drop a particular subject when until we've parked up. I know it's harder to do that on the phone, because the person I'm talking to can't see that I'm driving in difficult conditions ... but I'm a little wary of the apparent claims in some media reports that any phone conversation is too distracting. That may be the case, but I haven't seen reports which try to assess the different degrees of distraction.
Driving simulator experience - Hamsafar
Sounds much better than the one I went in at our university to do with motorway message gantries on behalf of the Highways Agency. It was worse than a computer game. Most universities do this sort of thing, so if you have a lot of time on your hands during the day and fancy a change of scene, it's worth looking into. They are usually posted on noticeboards in reception and they prefer people who are not students as they need people from all ages and walks of life.
Driving simulator experience - Waino
but it would be very interesting to know if any studies have been done about how much distraction is caused by a less-demanding conversation.>>

The old Mondy has a radio cassette player rather than a cd player and some years ago I thought that, as a chap who read no books, I could listen to some audio-books on tape whilst driving. I started with 'Moab is my Washpot' by Stephen Fry. This went pretty well - not too demanding and I could give sufficient concentration to the tape. In a fit of wild ambition, I then tried 'Turlough' by Brian Keenan. No way could I give sufficient concentration to this book and drive at the same time - so I knew that I should call it a day on audiobooks in the car.

I will never understand how anyone can imagine that they could give full concentration to driving when using a mobile - handsfree or not. As for texting .... the only answer is a lifetime ban for someone so stupid.
Driving simulator experience - LikedDrivingOnce
. . . every situation you come across is very realistic ? even the BMWs and 4x4s tailgate you . . .

It's not that realistic then - the tailgaters should be Audis!

Seriously, what a great piece of kit for a thoroughly worthwhile line of investigation.
Driving simulator experience - gpmartin
I went on a motorbike simulator at the university I work at (not Leeds), though sadly it was nothing like as involving or enjoyable as that sounds - much lower budget. The main point of the exercise was around hazard awareness. They were looking for motorcyclists and non-motorcyclists, and as I'd never sat on a motorbike before in my life, I had to concentrate very hard on where the throttle, brakes and gears were. Consequently I'd killed about three pedestrians and had a head-on collision with a Land Rover within the first five minutes.

It was quite a nice distraction as a one-off, but the simulator Davey talks about sounds much more interesting, and useful for improving one's own driving.