Virtual driver program comes to the Buckeye State


COLUMBUS — Ohio is launching a statewide virtual driver assessment program that will test future drivers for how well they can drive in the 10 most common scenarios that cause accidents. Data from the assessment will be included in further studies from the state to help develop a better curriculum for prospective drivers.

“This program allows for assessing new license applicants’ driving skills in conditions associated with common serious crash scenarios,” Suzanne Hill, the program director for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHP) Research Institute, told The Center Square in an email. The Ohio Department of Public Safety (DPS) teamed up with the hospital to create the program.

“These are common but too dangerous to assess during an on road exam,” Hill said. “Testing for these during an [on-road examination] would place the driver, the examiner and other roads users at risk of crashing. But these are the skills required to avoid crashing once they are driving without adult supervision.”

The state will install 400 virtual driving assessment systems throughout the state as part of Gov. Mike DeWine’s “Ready, Test, Drive!” program. All 57 driver examination locations will be equipped with the systems as will many driver training schools. According to a study by the CHP, these programs are an effective way to predict which drivers lacked the skills to pass an on-road examination.

The system will allow students to experience crash scenarios in a safe and reliable way, Hill said. She said that the system can measure a student’s speed management, following behaviors, stopping behaviors, lane management behaviors and other aspects of safe driving performance.

Trainers will use the student’s performance on the assessment to determine what the student needs to work on before taking the on-road examination. This information will also be available to parents or guardians. All prospective drivers will have to take the virtual driving assessment before completing the on-road examination.

Lindsey Bohrer, the assistant communications director for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, told The Center Square in an email that the systems will be funded by a $350,000 grant to expand data collection. She said that all testing centers should be equipped with the systems by January and the driving schools should get them throughout the next year.

“We want everyone on our roads to make it home safe, and that starts with ensuring that Ohio is thoroughly equipping its young drivers with the skills they need to make good driving decisions,” DeWine said in a news release. “Ohio – Ready, Test, Drive! will use new, groundbreaking technology to instantly assess new drivers’ road readiness and determine precisely where driver’s education training should improve to prevent crashes and save lives.”

The state will store non-identifying driver data from these tests and will study the individual drivers’ performances and future crash and citation data to see what is working in the curriculum and what needs improvement.

Herb Homan, a staff lieutenant for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, told The Center Square in a phone interview that the diagnostic provided by the virtual driving assessment systems combined with future crash data will be a useful tool for developing an effective curriculum for prospective drivers.

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Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Ohio for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon