Tap into the gaming culture to train drivers
It is increasingly difficult to get driver trainees road time; advances in driver simulators may fill that gap
By Robert Avsec
Video games have been popular since the 1970s.
The U.S. military has tried to capitalize on this trend by creating a training program for its members after realizing the gamer culture has become ingrained into this and future generations.
That change transformed most major simulation training in the military to create a fighting force capable of handling their real-world counterparts.
One of the core responsibilities for any emergency services organization is the proper training of its personnel for safe over-the-road operation of emergency vehicles. This is especially true for fire and EMS organizations operating large trucks, when roughly 25 percent of annual firefighter fatalities occur when responding to or returning from alarms.
A comprehensive driver-training program and certification process is the key element in dramatically reducing those types of accidents. When it comes to time, materials and logistics, however, such programs can be burdensome to any size department.
Those constraints have only been exacerbated for many departments in recent years by staffing reductions, fiscal belt-tightening by local governments, and increased calls for service.
As with the military, emerging technology is offering affordable options to fit the driver training needs for fire and EMS departments of all sizes: emergency vehicle driving simulators.
Portable EVDS give you the flexibility to customize your EVDS for the types of vehicles in your fleet: firefighting trucks, aircraft rescue and firefighting vehicles, or EMS vehicles.
You can create realistic driving environments — using technology like 180-degree or 360-degree views and multiple-channels with 1024 x 768 image resolution — that train your drivers to recognize and anticipate hazardous driving situations.
Improved computer technology and graphics with high refresh and update rates provide smooth image flow during any drive, at common speeds, creating comfortable training environments. The "dash in the glass" in the driving simulator can add greater flexibility in replicating various types of vehicles gauges. Touch-screen technology provides the training instructor a more user-friendly environment to control the training process
Incoming personnel have less experience driving large vehicles — and the fire apparatus keeps getting bigger — than their predecessors and require more behind-the-wheel training to attain driving competency. EVDS provides the instructor with capability to expose students to a wide variety of driving scenarios that require driver action to avoid an accident and for the instructor to reinforce good driving habits.
Because the student is sitting in the vehicle that they actually operate, the EVDS provides a much more realistic training environment with a steering wheel, brake, clutch and accelerator. Training like they'll respond enhances the student's retention and their ability to take what they've learned and apply to the road.
How to buy an EVDS
The first generation of EVDS was typically a fixed system that by and large only met one departmental need: driver training. The logistical issues of scheduling, getting personnel to the simulator location, and maintaining service coverage were still unresolved issues for many organizations.
The current generation of EVDS has brought resolution to many of those challenges. Improvements in computer and visual display technologies, better software, and improved research have upgraded the capabilities of portable systems. These systems can be brought to the staff that needs the training and the training can take place using the vehicles that they actually operate.
The decision to purchase an EVDS is big investment and a long-term commitment. Look for vendors that have expertise in specialized hardware, simulation software and educational curricula or courseware as well as human researchers who can validate the resulting program.
One option to consider is a platform technology. While providing cost-effective and ultimately portable hardware that can work with any wheeled vehicle, it also gives you the ability to work with not one, but many simulation engines. Such systems, frequently allow you to keep your own, custom-designed driving scenarios. Look for vendors that can:
- Define a visual database for your response areas that include things such as intersections, vehicles, pedestrians, traffic control devices, buildings, flora and fauna, and miscellaneous elements of your choosing.
- Create hazardous situations using active traffic and pedestrians that require decision-making and action by the student.
- Create roadway profiles using highway engineering specifications such as horizontal and vertical curvature and transitions, cross section slopes, etc.
- Create built-in driver assessment tasks for situations such as maintaining spacing when following vehicles, driver distractions, and braking reaction times.
If at any point you feel that the software you are using does not allow you to reach your driver training objectives, is too difficult to use, or has simply became obsolete, you can upgrade to a different software package at a nominal cost. And the number of software applications continues to grow.
A portable EVDS that is well designed for the realities of the driving challenges faced by your department's emergency vehicle operators can be money well spent. Keep in mind that your purchase is not just an investment in better training for your people, but is also a critical component of an organizational risk management strategy.
The increased public scrutiny of emergency vehicle operations via social media, increases potential for poor driving behaviors or crashes becoming public. And what fire and EMS department really needs to deal with that?