Maximizing Simulation Driver Training


Simulation driver training is not meant to replace the cognitive or the psychomotor aspects of a driving program. Designed to teach the affective aspect, it influences future thought processes when presented with similar situations.

Simulation training, like most training, is only as effective as the instructor and student make it. The instructor is the single most influential person in the simulation room and can adjust the training, to a degree, to maximize learning.

Simulation training provides a safe learning environment in which students can practice dangerous exercises and maneuvers and perceive the consequences of improperly executing them.

Some students may not be convinced of the full value of simulation training. They may view the driving simulator as an expensive video game. However, if simulation training is presented appropriately, students will remember and learn.

Start by creating a plan using the overall learning objectives that chart a course that covers specific goals that are critical to learning a requisite skill. The instructor should be committed to converting the level of training from that in a video game into viable simulation training. Doing this involves acclimating the students to the simulator environment.


Simulation training should include the following:

Introduction Phase. The instructor identifies the purpose and goals of driving instruction/driver simulator-based training and describes phenomena such as the simulator adaptation syndrome (SAS), which is similar to motion sickness. During simulation, three-dimensional objects are experienced on a two-dimensional screen. When stopping, turning, or accelerating, the brain from visual spectrum recognizes movement, but the body does not have any G-force applied, as in driving an apparatus or a vehicle. G-force refers to the body’s moving forward if you are stopping, moving backward if you are accelerating, or moving to either side if you are turning in an actual apparatus or a vehicle. The brain is seeing movement in the peripherals, but the body really isn’t moving. This is confusing to the brain and sometimes creates a temporary feeling of discomfort. It can often be resolved simply by having the student wear an antinausea wristband or having cool air blow on the student’s face.

The instructor discusses the program’s goals and objectives and good driving skills and habits. The instructor must be passionate about driving, safety, and teaching so that whether using the Volunteer Firemen’s Insurance Services, the Emergency Vehicle Operators Course, or some other driver training program simulation, students will learn good judgment and decision-making skills.

In the fire and EMS services today, we need to teach principles that foster the development of critical thinking skills, which will enhance the safety of our young and impressionable drivers. Simulation is also a mechanism for reacquainting seasoned veterans with forgotten skills.

Acclimation/Adaptation Phase. You can correlate this phase to pregame warmup drills, stretching, or hitting the driving range and putting green prior to the golf competition. Unfortunately, some instructors new to teaching driver simulation eliminate this phase. This phase sets the tone for the practical exercise phase and the performance-based testing. This is the point where the instructor introduces students to the simulator and identifies the locations of all controls.

Students should first take a free drive without anyone else in the virtual world, making right and left turns and accelerating and braking, so that they can become acclimated to the apparatus and reactions. After three to five minutes of this activity, have the student move away from the simulator, and explain what the brain just experienced; relate back to the concept of SAS, introduced in the classroom session. After three to five minutes, move on to the next phase.

Practical Exercise Phase. The instruction focuses on scenario-based learning, good judgment, and decision-making skills. The instructor decides on the skill sets to be addressed, determines the areas in which the students are deficient, and focuses the scenario-based learning until student efficiency in those areas has improved.

Each practical exercise in the virtual world should focus on a specific area. Improvement in the area will be measurable by recognition and improvement in judgment and decision-making skills when the students encounter different but similar situations. Each scenario will take from three to five minutes, and a student should see a minimum of four scenarios, with a little instructor input after each one. Allow approximately 20 minutes for this phase. Once all the areas in need of improvement have been addressed, the students are ready for the performance-based testing.

Performance-Based Testing. The instructor effectively measures the students’ learning. Each student will demonstrate the learned behaviors while performing critical tasks simultaneously. This phase is pass/fail; the instructor determines if the student has acquired the learned behaviors necessary to perform emergency response safely. This phase, during which the behavior and skills demonstrated are summarized, takes about 10 minutes.

Learning should be layered for the best possible retention. Begin with the basic foundation of safe driving, and then build new and more advanced skills one on top of the other. Weave a testing component into each layer. The most significant advantage of this style of learning is retention through implementation instead of just sitting in a chair and listening.

Industry standards tell us that the ideal student-to-teacher ratio should be 5:1 and should not exceed 7:1. This obviously creates an issue of class size and the ability to train a large number in a short time. The benefit is that individual instruction and student participation result in greater learning, which translates into less liability for your department.

Active participation by all students involved in the exercises, not just those involved in driving, is critically important. Non-driving students observing should be given backup roles such as dispatchers giving additional information or second-arriving units asking for assignments and participate in debrief/critique sessions and the overall observation of classroom exercises.

Measurement, the ultimate benchmark of learned behavior, is the final practicum—performance-based scenarios that allow the students to demonstrate their learned skill sets. They include skills that have been learned from the basic foundation of simulation training up to the advanced levels of emergency response driving. The performance-based test allows the students to demonstrate that they now possess the mental and physical abilities to perform multiple critical tasks within the established parameters of fire and EMS driving while maintaining the high degree of professionalism and expertise that has come to be expected of our profession.

We need to teach principles that foster the development of critical thinking skills, which will enhance the safety of our young and impressionable drivers.

MARK CLEVELAND, a 20-year veteran of the fire service, has spent 16 years with Addison (MI) Fire & EMS Department, where he is assistant chief/paramedic/IC. He is a certified State of Michigan fire instructor II, fire officer III, VFIS driving instructor, and EMS instructor coordinator. He has taught driver training simulation at several locations in Michigan.

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