It wouldn’t be uncommon for the majority to recall a humorous or more likely, embarrassing story of the first time we learned to drive. In my own experience, my dad sat in the passenger seat roaring across at me ‘Jesus will you watch where you’re going’ etc. Remember that dreaded fear of stalling when you take off for the first time? Or worse again, the fear of a scratch or scrape on one of the most expensive items you’ll buy for the first time, not that I ever have (ahem). Although these are fond memories for most, traumatic for others, we are living in a different time where new options are available.
I was invited to Drive Virtual Driving Academy in Dundalk, to test out their driving simulators, of which there are currently 3 housed in the facility. Although these are available across the USA and Europe, this is the first simulation experience (excluding racing/motorsport simulators) geared towards learner drivers in Ireland. The team highlighted many of its advantages which includes independent learning in a safe, accident free and carbon neutral environment. Many learner drivers have been affected by long waiting lists for driving lessons as a result of the pandemic and this company hopes to assist in solving this problem.
I was greeted by a friendly and knowledgeable member of staff, Caoimhín, who initially familiarised me with the physical simulator itself. It certainly looks similar to a typical driving experience with the standard equipment – seat, steering wheel, pedals, gearstick and even a seatbelt facing into a wide screen. He guided me through the theory section – all of the things we deem as second nature to us – using the indicators, wipers and even what the lights on the dashboard symbolise. Each section is carefully designed step by step to introduce absolute beginners into the world of driving, with an assessment and evaluation after each segment. One of the features I particularly enjoyed was the visual gauge on screen when depressing the clutch or accelerator to advise the correct amount of pressure for taking off. Once you get through the basics, there are a range of different programmes from practicing parking to anticipating hazards in various situations.
When I set about driving, I had a choice of weather conditions (dry, rainy, windy) as well as various environments (countryside, town, circuit) and levels of traffic. It is certainly detailed to Irish roads also even down to the presence of an Garda Síochanna!
It is the perfect learning experience for beginners but it struck me as even more useful for nervous drivers who wish to practice without fear of making mistakes. The devil is in the detail, it is so realistic that you must switch on the ignition and have your seatbelt on before taking off. I also found the graphics across the screens most impressive and as close to reality as you’ll get from a simulation. Again, at the end of each section, it provides comprehensive feedback of mistakes made and how to rectify them.
The advantages are plentiful and it is undeniable that this is sure to fill a gap in the market. The only real criticism is that the simulator itself is overly sensitive at times and perhaps not fully representative of how a car might react in a given situation. Upon balance though, this is likely to create higher caution in beginners which is no harm when setting out in a real car.
I envisage that this will be enormously popular with teenagers and secondary schools would benefit from engaging in programmes like this. Additionally, this could reduce the cost of those initial driving lessons and provide an excellent knowledge base. Thank you to Drive Virtual Academy for inviting me to test out the simulator and I wish them continued success in their new venture. Happy Driving!
For more info about the Drive Virtual Driving Academy LTD check out their website here
20th March 2022