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University uses virtual reality to highlight road safety around heavy vehicles

A Deakin University project, in partnership with Linfox and the Transport Accident Commission among others, is using virtual reality in a bid to help educate young inexperienced drivers about driving safely around heavy vehicles.

Funded by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative (HVSI), it is designed to encourage empathy in young drivers around interactions on the roads, and highlight some of the challenges heavy vehicles operators face with inexperienced drivers.

The project simulates common – and dangerous – scenarios, giving young drivers a literal reality check of how their actions may contribute directly to road carnage.

Deakin University says that as Victoria continues to be more mobile after the lifting of Covid lockdowns, there is concern over an increased lack of awareness on how to share the road with bigger vehicles, as well as the need to educate road users about the inherent safety considerations when sharing the road with heavy vehicles.

The project received a funding boost late last year and the latest stage of the project continues from an earlier pilot project. It will include the development of an extended range of VR experiences that are applicable across Australia.

Partnerships with education providers will also be implemented to deliver the VR experience to young drivers in different parts of the country.

Project lead and director of Deakin’s CADET Virtual Reality Lab, Professor Ben Horan said, “This project is a fantastic opportunity to continue to explore the role that virtual reality can play in supporting a deeper understanding and empathy of what it is like to drive a heavy vehicle on our roads and why it is so important for passenger vehicles to drive safely when interacting with heavy vehicles.”

Linfox group manager for safety, health and wellbeing, Chris Wilks said the company receives a steady stream of feedback from its drivers, usually with a common theme: merging.

“Our heavy vehicle drivers do a terrific job to stay safe on the road. When you consider that most other road users don’t have experience driving a truck, it’s not surprising that some motorists find themselves in dangerous situations,” Wilks explained.

“A good example of this is when a motorist suddenly merges into a gap in front of the truck leaving them with little time to stop safely. Quite often, this forces drivers to brake suddenly and potentially take evasive action to avoid an accident,” he added.

“Overtaking and sitting in a driver’s blind spot on a multi-lane road when the truck needs to merge is another example of motorists not appreciating the differences between a car and truck.”

Professor Horan says many young drivers are shocked at their lack of awareness after experiencing the simulated scenarios, realising just how risky their inexperience can be.

“Many of us don’t fully understand the challenges from a heavy vehicle perspective, and it is very difficult to replicate it in the real world,” said Horan.

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