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Wednesday, October 25, 2000

Driving instructors
want teens behind
a real wheel

Plans to use the Internet
instead of on-hands
lessons draw fire

By Treena Shapiro

Some Hawaii driving instructors today criticized the state's proposed use of the Internet and simulators as alternatives to classrooms and behind-the-wheel driver's education for Hawaii's teen-agers.

The state Department of Transportation held a public hearing this morning at Honolulu Airport to discuss changes to the driver's licensing law, which includes mandatory driver's education for all teen-agers under age 18. The law raises the age for receiving a learner's permit from 15 to 15 and the minimum age to obtain a driver's license to 16. No testimony was offered in regard to raising the minimum age.

However, Glenn Oide, owner of Accurate Driving and a member of the task force that discussed amendments to the driver licensing law, expressed concern over replacing classroom instruction with a driving simulator, which he feels would reduce the students' sense of social consciousness.

He was one of three instructors who testified against the simulator today. A fourth instructor said he believed it could be a useful aid.

With a simulator, students "don't get to meet and talk with other students that they will be responsible to in their driving," Oide argued.

Mixing technology with classroom and behind-the-wheel training could be very effective, Oide said. But he said he feels more emphasis needs to be placed on group training and actual driving. At most, only 12 hours of driver's training should be on a simulator, he said.

Oide also questioned whether the requirement that parents certify their children have undergone 50 hours of supervised driver's training is an adequate substitute, since they are not trained instructors. "Parents don't have the time to become supplemental instructors at the level we require," he said.

Another cause for concern is that there is no evidence that simulator training enhances driving ability, according to Michael Bess, founder of the Driving School Association of America.

"In my experience with simulators you actually have to retrain them from all the negative things they've learned," he said.

However, Karen Diener of Hyperion Technologies, the company developing the simulator, said the fear over training teen-agers with simulators reflects concern over the videotape simulators used in the 1970s, rather than the computerized simulators used today to train pilots and police officers.

The driving simulator will promote behavior-based driving rather than mechanical skills, and students will be forced to repeat the same minor tasks until they master them, she said.

Students also would experience high-risk situations that can't be enacted in real driving, such as their first accident or fatality. While others testified that Hawaii's teen-agers will be used as "guinea pigs" for the yet-untested simulator, Diener said the technology is being tested as it's developed and "kids in Hawaii are always going to be responsible and socially conscious in driving."

Chester Clark, a driver education instructor at Kalani High School, testified in support of the simulator, saying he believes it will enhance the driver education program. "I look at it as an aid to the program and Hawaii's new drivers," he said.

DOT spokeswoman Marilyn Kali, added, "There's still a lot of misconception over what simulation really is."

People tend to think of it as a video game as opposed to a training instrument, she said. In light of the testimony, all that's likely to change is the number of hours used on the simulator, she said.

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