DETROIT — Toyota this week introduced a new simulator that uses Oculus Rift virtual reality to educate parents and teens about the dangers of distracted driving. The simulator debuted at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show and will make the rounds of U.S. auto shows this year.
Distracted driving is a major problem for teen drivers, according to federal safety regulators.
Ten percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.
Although the Oculus Rift headset is still new technology, and most of the buzz around it relates to gaming, movies and other entertainment applications, a number of more serious uses have already begun emerging. Job training, physical therapy and pilot instruction have all been mentioned as likely developments.
Now Toyota has incorporated the virtual-reality device into its TeenDrive365 program, which helps parents and teens meet the challenges young drivers face during their first year on the road.
To experience the simulator, a driver gets into a stationary Toyota car, equipped with a steering wheel and pedals, and puts on the Oculus Rift headset and stereo headphones. When the simulation begins, the driver is challenged to navigate busy city streets in 360-degree virtual reality.
Unlike a 3D movie or television, however, Oculus Rift provides a 100-degree field of view to expand peripheral vision and also allows the user to move his or her head and look around inside and outside the vehicle. At the same time, surround sound delivers a real-world directional audio experience.
The challenge — and the whole point of the simulator — comes when a series of common distractions enter the mix. Traffic noises, the radio, text messages and even some virtual friends in the car all combine to test the driver's focus on maneuvering the vehicle.
If the driver becomes distracted and slips up, virtual consequences ensue. But the hope is that the simulation will help avoid those consequences in real life.
For a complete list of auto show event dates, click here.
Edmunds says: Toyota has found a unique way to apply a fun virtual-reality device to the serious issue of distracted driving. It's yet another good reason for a family visit to your local auto show.