Know more about the city's transportation system in the weekly column 'Roads and Rails'.
The night is dark and a light drizzle keeps visibility low. As D.Sujithra slowly releases the clutch and accelerates, she rams into a speed-breaker. She makes a mental note to look out for the signboard next time. Taking a bend at the next intersection, she swerves and hits a car.
The screen goes back to the ‘Main menu'. All of that was happening inside a computer screen and she was sitting inside a driving simulator. She takes driving lessons at ABT Maruti Driving School in Arumbakkam and a significant part of the mandatory 21 hours of driving experience happens on a simulator.
Driver behaviour is an important facet which has to be addressed in order to tackle road accidents, which have been increasing by four per cent every year. Simulators can play a significant role in this regard.
U. Kanakarajhan, an instructor at the centre, says that one can get a driving licence knowing just 40 per cent of the material in the prescribed driving manual. “I have seen many licence holders come back to relearn because they do not have the confidence to drive. A simulator can give them experience without the risk,” he adds.
According to him, it is easier to teach people to drive a car using a simulator, especially if they have never ridden a two-wheeler before. “They have better clutch control, braking judgment and steering control before they get into the car,” Mr. Kanakarajhan says.
Skill training on a simulator involves various aspects like parking, overtaking, changing of lanes, negotiating intersections and traffic roundabouts, and so on.
It also covers risk awareness situations like a pedestrian suddenly crossing the road, a car suddenly backing off from the parking lot and wrongful overtaking.
“A mistake can be costly in a real world situation. Whereas, on a simulator, you just do the exercise again,” says M.K.Subramanian, secretary of the Automobile Association of South India (AASI). The AASI will be inaugurating a simulator at its premises on Anna Salai on Friday and it will be open for use by its members.
“On a simulator, a learner is given the chance to evaluate himself because mistakes flash on the screen,” he adds.
According to him, AASI will soon be buying field vision testers, reaction time tester equipment and peripheral vision testers to push government agencies towards scientific means of testing a candidate.
However, A.Veeraraghavan, Transportation Engineering Professor at IIT-Madras, says that the road is the only test track that can realistically quantify one's skill. “On a simulator, the autorickshaw which takes a sudden U-turn is not there. A simulator can only gauge reaction time. Other behavioural aspects cannot be quantified. After a few minutes, they will know they are sitting in a comfortable chair. It will become a videogame.”
According to him, the long-term strategy would be for the government to get out of testing and evolve a public private partnership model which will enable accredited agencies to certify a candidate's road worthiness. “The government can issue the licence and act as a facilitator,” he adds.
Transport Commissioner M.Rajaram, who has test driven a simulator, said that the module is extremely sensitive and might not be able to exactly replicate on-the-road driving experience. Since it is a technical matter, he said that the department will think about introducing simulators in select RTOs after consulting with experts.