Since the start of the Bridgestone Simulator Experience in July 2013, more than 110 schoolchildren of driving age have had the opportunity to take the wheel and get a taste of the real world of driving. For almost half it was their first experience of driving at all, and even those raised on a diet of racing games soon realised that surviving on the roads is a far cry from setting killer lap times on the console.
“For years Bridgestone has brainstormed ways to make a real difference to the driving skills of young drivers,” said Bridgestone public relations manager, Mandy Lovell. “The problem was how? We didn’t want to just preach and hand out pamphlets.
“We wanted to actively change mindsets, but that is difficult without sending children to a driver training centre, which isn’t always practical and the obstacles seemed insurmountable.”
The solution came when Bridgestone’s driver training provider, driving.co.za, proposed combining their recently-acquired truck driving simulators with their proven self-study defensive driving course. The simulators reproduce a generic truck cab, with detailed graphics and audio.
Unlike most other commercially available driving simulators, they also include a motion platform which reproduces the sensations of vehicle movement.
“At first, we weren’t sure whether a truck simulator would be the right way to go, but then we drove it and were hooked,” Lovell said. “Many schoolkids have driven a car but very few have driven a truck, so it’s almost sure to be a new experience for most.”
Currently limited to Gauteng only, the simulator is mounted on the back of a Hyundai H100 vehicle and is fully self-contained, right down to a generator. Pupils get the same experience whether at a rural farm school or a private school in the city.
Rob Handfield-Jones, managing director of driving.co.za said the focus was on improving road safety knowledge by tailoring each session to the pupil.
“We configure the vehicle, controls and route to match the pupil’s driving experience and each gets a 10 to 15 minute drive. For those who can already drive our trainer running the session will give valuable defensive driving hints and tips.
“For novice drivers we address more basic skills, like how to move off safely and steer,” he added.
The simulator monitors driving errors and produces a printout which is given to each pupil at the end of the drive, along with a self-study defensive driving course pack to help them learn the right driving habits from the word go.
Lovell said the reaction so far had exceeded expectations.
“The pupils really love the experience and quite a few ask for a second try on different routes, or with a more advanced set-up like a horse and trailer truck with a manual gearbox,” she said.
The programme is entirely free of charge to participating schools, with Bridgestone covering all costs. All the school needs to provide is a place to park the simulator and a plug point if possible.