A Look at How Toyota’s Virtual Reality Simulations are Helping Teens avoid Distracted Driving

Oculus Rift was originally developed by the independent company Oculus VR, bought by Facebook in March 2014 for $2 billion, as a virtual reality headset so that hardcore video gamers could sling frag grenades in award-winning games like Doom 3. Toyota has now repurposed the Oculus Rift headset for something elseā€”to exterminate distracted driving.

Teen Drivers Ignore Perils of Distracted Driving

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), for teenage drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2011, nearly one in five were distracted by the use of a cell phone. "This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted," said the NHTSA. An Automobile Association of America study investigated 1,700 teenage car crashes caught on tape and went even further; 58 percent of accidents, it said, involved distracted driving.

TeenDrive365 Seeks to Reduce Distracted Driving

On November 18, 2013, Toyota launched a campaign to end the ignorance and apathy surrounding distracted driving. "TeenDrive365" aims to foster teenage responsibility and parental guidance, a methodology based on the results of a national study conducted by Toyota in collaboration with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. The campaign includes training videos, a $15,000 grassroots video contest, driving advice from racing superstars like Antron Brown and JD Gibbs, a safe-driving contract and now, with the addition of Oculus Rift, a distracted driving simulator.

Toyota Uses Virtual Reality to Combat Distracted Driving

First unveiled at the Dallas Auto Show in March 2015, the simulator, built in partnership with 360i, invites teenagers to hop behind the wheel of a stationary car, don a headset, and drive down a city street. Raucous passengers, sirens, text messages, flocks of birds and other stimuli compete for attention. In this driving test, there are no second chances.
Almost 80 percent of participants have said they would reduce distractions because of their simulator experience. Teenagers and parents alike are learning that, unlike in a video game, there are no multiple lives.

Consider the Lessons Learned

While you might think this simulator program is just a marketing ruse, consider the types of things that teenagers gain from stepping inside a driving test like this:

  • Distracted driving escalates. Read one text message or open one bag of chips, and the distractions multiply.
  • Driving is leadership. A driver’s hands hold the lives of his or her passengers. Should those hands be grasping the wheel at 10 and 2, or "liking" a friend’s selfies?
  • Distractions decrease response times. Teenage drivers often believe in their infallible reflexes. A billboard and bent bumper later, that myth is expunged.
  • You get to watch your BFF fail. Watching a friend shatter her windshield leverages the power of peer pressure for the greater good.

Thanks to Toyota’s innovative TeenDriver365 campaign, the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is doing more than helping gamers destroy virtual demons. As the program continues, teens will be able to grasp the gravity of distracted driving, and make their own resolutions for safe driving in the future.

The information for this article was provided by a DUI attorney in Los Angeles.

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