New evidence suggests virtual reality (VR) hazard perception tests are superior to traditional single-screen presentation methods, potentially providing a major boost to driver safety.
The research found that the gap between experienced and learner driver scores widened when they use the VR headsets as a result of the experienced drivers improving their performance.
The hazard perception test has been part of the driver licensing procedure since 2002.
It involves learner drivers watching a video and pressing a button every time they see a hazard - the earlier they identify the hazard, the more points they get.
A 2016 study (Horswill) credited the test with reducing the number of damage-only collisions by 8,535 per year, as well as resulting in 1,076 fewer injury collisions a year and annual savings of £89.5m.
Prof David Crundall of Nottingham Trent University said: ‘We finally have the evidence that suggests perhaps we can definitively say VR shows superiority over more traditional presentation methods of hazard perception testing.’
His research was done in partnership with the RAC Foundation, the Road Safety Trust and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency.
‘We know that when you just pass the test you have at least a three times higher chance of having a collision. We know that learner drivers are unskilled in things like hazard perception. So we expect the experienced drivers to score higher than the learner drivers,’ he explained.
‘The really exciting thing is when we move into VR we see the gap between the experienced drivers and learner drivers has grown, which suggests that moving to VR has been beneficial in terms of making the test better.
‘It is now tapping into the driving skills and underlying hazard perception skills, which are representative of the skills we are trying to measure. The wider gap is born out of the experienced drivers getting much better. I think when we get experienced drivers in front of a single screen hazard perception test we limit them by the boundaries of that screen – they can’t look where they want to look.’
The research is unlikely to impact the actual driving test as 5-10% of people feel nausea when in a VR headset and the testing is very expensive to create.
However, it could be useful for commercial operators in boosting driving skills and carrying out internal learning programmes such as cycling awareness. The delivery group UPS already uses VR training.