Why road safety experts want teens to be truckers for a day

Moving Well | Sue Hewitt | Image: Getty | Posted on 22 August 2019

City of Bendigo and Deakin University to put teens in truck drivers’ shoes for a day.

Putting a teenager behind the wheel of a big road rig seems a crazy way to tackle the road toll. 

But a pilot road-safety campaign planned by the City of Bendigo in partnership with Deakin University aims to give prospective drivers a sense of what it feels like to be in control of an 18-wheeler when a random car zips in front of your rig.

The #GetTruckWise campaign, which is planned to launch next year, will use virtual reality based on real-life scenarios to help 16 to 18-year-olds understand where the blind spots of a truck may be and what it feels like trying to stop a fully laden truck in a few car lengths to avoid a collision. 

It’s not about kids learning to be truck drivers but rather changing their behaviour around trucks by using the power of emotion. 

Large truck on a highway in Australia

“We’re putting them in a truck driver’s shoes and making them empathise with them,” says associate professor Ben Horan, who heads Deakin’s virtual-reality lab.

“It’s not trying to improve their driving skills, but rather their understanding of the risk and challenges of interacting with a heavy vehicle.”

The pilot program is still in the planning stages and researchers are currently talking to truckies to help develop realistic virtual-reality scenarios.

“This is a very exciting project where we can take full advantage of using virtual reality and 360-degree video to help immerse young drivers in virtually replicated real-life scenarios,” says Ben.

“We want them to experience challenges such as manoeuvring a long vehicle and dealing with blind spots.”

Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke says the aim is “to help young drivers to be aware of the very real challenges facing truck drivers every day and hopefully help them gain more empathy about sharing the road safely and not taking risks”.

Katherine Wrzesinski, Bendigo city’s senior strategic transport planner, says the pilot focuses on learner drivers because road crashes are one of the leading causes of death among young people.

She says the crash rate for novice drivers is 10 times higher than that of middle-aged drivers. 

Significantly, there is an extremely high crash and fatality rate during the first year of driving, particularly during the first six to 12 months of unsupervised driving and especially on country roads, she says.

Sal Petroccitto, CEO of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator which provided $250,000 funding toward the project, says statistics show that cars are involved in a significant number of heavy-vehicle crashes.

“Understanding important safety tips like a truck’s blind spots, allowing extra distance for a heavy vehicle to brake and the space needed to turn can reduce the risk for all road users,” Sal says.

Deakin’s Ben Horan says ultimately the aim is to take the program on the road nationally. “This problem [truck and car accidents] is not isolated to Bendigo or Victoria, it’s across the nation,” he says.