CLOVER Fifteen-year-old John Price is learning to be a safer motorist in a Clover High School drivers ed class and hes able to practice without any chance of crashing into another car or driving off into a ditch.
The Clover High sophomore works on turning, changing lanes, checking the blind spot and other beginning driver skills on one of 20 new computerized driving simulators used by the class.
It helps a lot, Price said. Im turning, merging, changing lanes. You have to pay attention to pretty much everything it tells you.
The new simulators are programmed to provide a range of lessons that begin with basics like dashboard controls), move on with techniques like passing and braking and end with more advanced driving techniques like driving at night or in snowy or rainy weather and navigating different types of traffic. Three screens feature both front and side views for the driver.
Every lesson has an assessment of the drivers performance, said drivers ed instructor Robbie Wiggins, who teaches the class with a second instructor, Doug Collins. Students must satisfactorily complete each driving lesson before they move on to the next one, he said.
Here, you get a chance, Wiggins said, referring to the opportunity for students to learn from their driving mistakes without the danger of an accident. On the road, you dont get a chance.
The 20 new driving simulators replace 12 older simulators that dated to the late 1980s, Wiggins said. The older simulators did not include individualized lessons or performance assessments.
Every student watched the same (driving) movie at the same time, and no matter how well they were doing, they all went at the same pace, Wiggins said of the older simulators.
The new simulators keep a record of each students performance, he said, so with each new class, a student can begin lessons where he left off in the previous class.
During the simulator experience, students wearing earphones hear directions and sound effects the starting of an engine and the sound of acceleration, for example, or the squeak of windshield wipers in the rain.
The simulators also can be set for different weather or traffic situations.
Jacob Jones, 15, said he appreciates the driving experience he gets using a simulator.
If you mess up, its not a big deal, so you get to practice, said Jones. It teaches me a lot.
During the nine-week class, Wiggins said, all students receive 30 hours of classroom driving instruction, 12 hours of driving simulator practice and three hours of driving instruction on the road.
The driving simulators allow the drivers ed program to enroll 240 students a year, Wiggins said. Without simulators, he said, the class formula calls for 30 hours of classroom learning and six hours of actual driving, but the program could only enroll 144 students a year.
Students who complete the class earn a discount on their auto insurance until age 25, he said.
Ken Love, Clovers assistant superintendent for business services, said the simulators cost $165,000, or about $8,250 each. The district bought them with money set aside for capital improvements.
Clover High Principal Marc Hopkins said he appreciates the districts support of the drivers ed program offered to students at no cost especially in an era when many school districts have cut the program altogether or charge a fee for students to enroll.
The old driving simulators were 23 years old, Hopkins said, so this was a huge step into the 21st century for us.
Miranda Wray, 15, said some students find using the simulators frustrating. For example, she said, if students miss a step, or make a mistake, the program stops and starts over.
I do better driving than on the simulators, she said, noting that the mechanics of the program are set up to train drivers to take certain steps, such as checking their blind spot.
Ive learned that you have to look into your blind spots more, she said. You need to pay attention to those blind spots.
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