PHOENIX — One of the top reasons for teen crashes is inexperience. So, one Arizona dad set out to change that — and he's using video games to do it.
The lightbulb went off for Bob Davis when he narrowly avoided a crash from a loose load on the truck in front of him.
"At that moment I immediately went to my 14-year-old son and thought, 'if he did this wrong he could've just died,' " Davis said.
He had the realization that driving manuals teach the rules of the road, and parents show their children the basics in empty parking lots or teens learn in closely monitored driver's education classes. But he said the really difficult situations come up on the fly and new teen drivers are never properly prepared.
"If it's really foggy and rainy and you're teaching your 15-year-old to drive, you're not going to take them out that day," Davis said.
He started by creating Virtual Driver Interactive, driving simulators for use in driver's education classes. There's a steering wheel, pedals and a monitor that take drivers through a wide array of scenarios, from parallel parking to reacting to a hydroplaning car. Drivers are given direction and instruction over headphones.
It's a system the Deer Valley Unified School District in Phoenix has found success with in their courses for teen drivers.
"It brings an ambulance or a firetruck into the picture. Sometimes it'll throw an animal into the road," said driving instructor Dan Hinton. "It also helps familiarize them with more confusing things like, 'Which lane am I supposed to be in? Which lane am I suppose to turn into when taking a left or taking a right?' Yes, I do think it helps."
Knowing not every kid has access to driver's ed, Davis wanted to drive the idea further and figured what many teens do have access to: gaming consoles.
Now, any kid with an Xbox and regular controller can download Driving Essentials XE. Instead of rewarding risk like typical video driving games, these games give points to encourage good habits, like checking mirrors and ignoring distractions.
Adding to the realism, if you get in a distracted-driving crash or hit someone, Davis says the game takes you to court and puts you in front of a real judge they've partnered with.
Xbox users can download Driving Essentials XE for $39 through Microsoft. The company is working on adapting the game for PlayStation 4.