Thursday, January 25, 2001
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Posted on: Thursday, January 25, 2001

YMCA's simulator puts teens in driver seat before hitting road

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Right from the start, the driving simulator machine at the Honolulu YMCA teaches good habits.

Driving courses

The YMCA course, which costs $600, will begin full class sessions on March 4 at the Nuuanu YMCA. A pilot class of 16 students began instruction Monday. Students meet three times a week for two-hour classes over a six-week period.

KQ Corp. will install additional simulators at the Atherton YMCA branch in March and Leeward YMCA branch in April for expanded classes. Simulators for the Neighbor Island YMCAs are targeted for April.

The YMCA program will be capable of accommodating up to 5,000 teens statewide this year, and 7,000 to 8,000 teens per year thereafter.

For more information or to reserve a space, call the YMCA at 541-5250.

You can’t use the machine until you fasten your seat belt.

The YMCA, which is offering driver education classes, unveiled the simulator at its Nuuanu branch yesterday. Dubbed the "Y Primedriver," the machine simulates various driving situations for minors. A state law that took effect Jan. 1 requires all drivers under 18 to complete mandatory driver education program before taking a road test.

State law requires 30 hours of in-class instruction; 50 hours of on-the-road practice driving (40 during the day and 10 at night) with a parent or licensed driver; and six hours of on-the-road instruction or five hours of a simulator-training course as with the YMCA machine.

YMCA president Don Anderson said his organization got involved in driver education because of the alarming level of teen fatalities in auto accidents. Statistics show that inattentive driving and misjudgment by teen drivers factored in 91 percent of their accidents.

KQ Corp., a Utah-based company, used computer technology from its aviation and maritime training programs to create the driving simulator. The device is run by six Intel computers and uses parts from Ford vehicles to create the driver’s canopy.

Gary Au of Drive Safe Hawaii, which will teach the YMCA courses, said the simulator is just one facet of the program.

"What we want to do is take the ideas from the classroom and apply it immediately with the simulator next door," Au said. "Parents will still need to take their children out on the road to practice. But using a simulator is less stressful for a young person practicing for the first time. Allowing instructors to correct their mistakes will also help them form good driving habits."

Unlike other driving simulators, the simulator’s five video monitors offer 180-degree forward field of vision, as well as views of rear and side-view mirrors, said Michael Mollenhauer of KQ Corp. Users can drive in various traffic situations (city, country, suburbs and freeways) and weather conditions (slick roads, poor visibility).

"Students will be given situations similar to real-life driving," Mollenhauer said, "getting out of the way for oncoming emergency vehicles, driving safely around pedestrians and parked vehicles on the side of the road, and avoiding vehicles that may cross into your lane."

Some people may feel motion sickness when first using the simulator, and Mollenhauer said users may need two or three tries to get used to the video screen.

The computer program, which modeled roadways from Minnesota and Colorado, will add scenarios to better fit Hawaii’s driving environment. Scenarios would include making left turns at busy intersections, higher traffic density on the roads, and shorter highway on-ramps.

The programmers may want to make other adjustments to better resemble Hawaii. In the program, the posted freeway speed limit is 65 mph, and a mock pumping station advertises super premium gasoline at a $1.74 per gallon.

"We’ll probably make changes there as well," Mollenhauer said.

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