For nearly two generations, video games have represented a valid source of entertainment for individuals the world over. As a whole, video games can cut across age, education level and socioeconomic status. And while many games explore more violent, aggressive actions there are numerous titles that focus only on problem solving and cognitive improvement. Researchers are now asking whether video games can help teens develop safe driving habits faster than simply relying on real-world experience.
Video games can have a positive impact
Many researchers have studied the role that video games play in developing or encouraging cognitive improvement. In a sense, video games train individuals to quickly identify danger, juggle multiple objectives and efficiently sift through a crowded information environment. In general, video games foster quick reaction times, fast reflexes and good hand-eye coordination. While these are tremendous abilities to have, do they translate to better drivers on our busy highways?
Can video games train safe drivers?
The evidence that video games help improve cognitive skills is mounting. From increasing the speed of information processing to maintaining sustained attention for a longer stretch of time, games help drivers in numerous areas. Unfortunately, it is difficult to make a sweeping generalization. One study published by the Xi’an Jiaotong University’s School of Management showed that different video games fostered different reactions in drivers. An intense, action-packed driving game could teach real-world drivers to take more chances and risks on the road. Conversely, a more neutral driving game teaches drivers to be more attentive on the road.
A University of Minnesota study divided participants into three groups. Researchers used a driving simulator to measure distractions in these groups: driving and texting, driving and talking, and no distractions. The study found that drivers who were texting were more likely to get into a collision. Drivers who were talking were more likely to violate the speed limit. Drivers with no distractions safely reached their destinations.
Where we’re at today
Unfortunately, there is no simple Yes or No answer to the main question: can video games make teens safer drivers. While video games can teach better reaction time and information processing, these are, in fact, ancillary skills. The game would specifically need to teach and encourage safe driving to train to safer drivers. Researchers encourage driving instruction classes to use this information wisely. Many driving simulators blur the lines between teaching and video games. The combination of simulators, practice and quality instruction is necessary to encourage safe driving, thereby reducing the risk for deadly motor vehicle collisions.