There are no million-dollar supercars and no world-famous racing circuits, but a new driving simulator is set to save lives. It's part of a campaign devised by Korean carmaker Kia - its revitalised Kia Motorvation programme - and is now being taken from Victoria to expand into New South Wales.
Now into its third year, Kia Motorvation is the new look and name for Kia's Young Drivers program, led by veteran safe driving educators Geoff Fickling and Jennie Hill.
With the new name comes an increased commitment from Kia and new corporate sponsors. The new sponsorship has funded the development of a new Mobile Training Centre, which the Kia Motorvation programme will use to reach more than 4000 learner-age and P-plate drivers in Victoria and New South Wales.
Inside the brand-new Mobile Training Centre - essentially a highly-modified bus - are two purpose-built driving simulators, complete with specialised software and a realistic hydraulic movement system.
At a special media demonstration this month, The Motor Report climbed into the seat, grabbed the wheel (both pulled from a Kia Cerato) and took the simulator for a virtual spin.
Apart from the hydraulics - which do add a genuine sense of movement and reality to the simulation - the hardware operates like any other off-the-shelf video-game steering wheel and pedal package.
The real work however is in the specialised driving software. It presents the driver with a wrap-around view of the virtual surroundings and takes them across driving courses based on real world scenarios.
The effort is made more difficult - and more realistic - thanks to added distraction from the instructor, acting as a particularly chatty passenger.
In our test, the system called for split-second reactions to a sudden flash from one of three lights. Those lights were to represent real world situations like a child running onto the road or an object suddenly appearing on a poorly lit stretch of highway.
While our time behind the wheel revealed an alarming false sense of speed - what was shown on the dash didn't quite gell with what we were seeing 'out the window' - the tests were a wake-up call for every participant, from high-school students to a group of journalists.
The software and hardware will benefit from further updates, and Fickling promises a more realistic experience before the Mobile Training Centres hit the road this year.
“The Kia Motorvation Program is a life-changing, enjoyable, and essential one-day course for young drivers," Kia Motorvation Co-principal and Chief Instructor Geoff Fickling said.
"It is suitable for pre-learners, learner drivers and P-Plate drivers - in fact, anyone aged between 16 and 25 years, the most risky time for any driver. It is not about learning how to drive nor how to become super skilled.”
Fickling said that while Australia's state governments and a number of organisations have experimented with advanced driving courses for young drivers, none have focused on what Motorvation extols as the missing key: psychology.
“Kia Motorvation does not seek to increase skills, but focuses mainly on achieving an awareness of thoughts about driving that are often unconscious," he said.
"Using this new awareness to completely change driving behaviour [is the key], therefore removing dangerous behaviours or habits. If you don't understand how you think, you can't change what you do.”
Partnering with new sponsors will also allow the Kia Motorvation to offer its unique training to schools at a "below cost" rate.
"Thanks to our sponsors, the cost per-student is generally around the $150 mark. Without sponsorship, we'd be talking somewhere beyond $300," Fickling told TMR.
"So, along with the mobile training centres, the driving simulators and the broader reach, you can see where the benefit is to the programme's participants."
Julie Hill, Motorvation's training manager and a special education teacher, said that while parents and schools have shown great interest in the programme - due, Hill says, to its "mind over motor" approach - government has been more difficult to bring around.
"We've been lobbying governments for years, and we came close to launching a trial with the Federal Government about five years ago - but there's a lot of opposition to what we do, largely because of the negative results of previous skills-focused racetrack-based programmes," She said.
In Europe and the Middle East however, Hill says others are listening to the Kia Motorvation program's message and pilot programs will soon be underway.
"We've got interest now in our programme from overseas governments and organisations, including the UK, the Netherlands and even Oman in the Middl East. These are three nations that are looking at introducing our programme in schools."
Parents and schools interested in learning more about the Kia Motorvation programme can visit motorvateyoungdrivers.com.au.
- TMR News Editor