A short training course in a traffic simulator lasting approximately an hour enhances the way that young drivers recognize and respond to hazardous traffic situations. This is the main finding from research conducted by Willem Vlakveld of the Dutch national road safety research institute (SWOV). He will be awarded a PhD on 30 November 2011 by the University Medical Center Groningen.
The research shows that young novice drivers do not perform well in hazard anticipation: they do not recognize hazards, do not see the risks and accept too many risks. Much of this poor hazard anticipation can be put down to a lack of driving experience, which according to Vlakveld can be rectified with a simple training course. He is therefore arguing a case for hazard anticipation to be added to the standard course of driving lessons.
Young novice drivers are at a higher than average risk of being involved in a serious road traffic accident. This is partly due to lack of experience and partly due to ‘age-related’ factors. The brains of young drivers are not yet fully developed, and they often display reckless or daredevil behaviour. An average of 60 drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 are killed on the roads every year. Young novice drivers are more than four times as likely to have an accident as experienced drivers (30-59 years of age). In the case of young men, the risk is as much as six times greater.
As part of his research, Vlakveld showed films of traffic situations to three groups of drivers. The drivers were divided into ‘experienced drivers’, and young and older learner drivers. The eye movements of the test subjects were monitored using an eye tracker. It was obvious that the younger learner drivers did not know where to look, as their lack of driving experience failed to alert them to possible hazards on the road.
Vlakveld also gave young drivers a hazard anticipation training course in a traffic simulator. The sessions revolved around learning to ‘sense risks’. After the course, the group he had trained were significantly more aware of latent hazards than the group that had not taken the course.
Willem Vlakveld’s research was launched in late 2007. Preliminary results meant that by 2009, the Dutch Central Office for Motor Vehicle Driving Testing (CBR) decided to include hazard recognition in the theoretical part of the test for a ‘B’ driving licence. To pass this part of the test, candidates must look at photos of traffic situations and indicate whether and how they should adjust their speed.
The research shows that experienced drivers perform better in this test than novice drivers. But young novice drivers who have already had an accident do worse in the test than young novice drivers who have not been involved in an accident. Vlakveld concludes from this that not all drivers learn from the experience of an accident. His own training module has been devised in a way that helps drivers to learn from their experience. Vlakveld also concludes that it is easier to assess hazard anticipation using moving images. Practising solely with theoretical exercises makes it more difficult to pass a film assessment and so it would be better if candidates were obliged to practise anticipating hazards in a practical situation.
So apart from practising for a CBR assessment with moving images, Vlakveld would also like to see a hazard anticipation training course included alongside standard driving lessons. Vlakveld devised the training course as part of his research. If the course proves to leave a lasting impression, it can be included for learner drivers alongside standard driving lessons.
Willem Vlakveld (Hilversum, 1953) studied Educational Sciences at Utrecht University. He carried out his PhD research at the neuropsychology department of the University Medical Center Groningen, at the Dutch national road safety research institute (SWOV) and at the University of Massachusetts (USA). His thesis is entitled: ‘Hazard anticipation of young novice drivers; assessing and enhancing the capabilities of young novice drivers to anticipate latent hazards in road and traffic situations’. Vlakveld works at SWOV as a senior researcher.
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