Blue light simulator to reduce the risk of accidents

Installation of the ambulance simulator.
VTI’s driving simulator Sim III has been used in the development of the ambulance simulator.Photo: Mikael Sönne

VTI is in charge of the SPEED project, which will develop simulator-based training for first responders. The need for simulator-based training is significant because emergency response drivers in the police, ambulance service and rescue services are not allowed to practice blue light driving in traffic.

Driving emergency vehicles is demanding, the driver must constantly weigh the risks against the need to arrive as quickly as possible. Interaction with other road users can be complex and requires experience. Experienced emergency response drivers know, for example, how to approach other cars in order to get them to move out of the way in the best way, it is important not to frighten the drivers so that they suddenly undertake dangerous manoeuvres.

But today, it can take time for blue light drivers to learn how to drive safely because practising emergency driving in traffic is not permitted. The lack of training opportunities is a problem when recruiting new employees to the ambulance service, rescue services and police. There is therefore a big need for simulator-based training.

Companies such as Skillster and Tenstar Simulation offer simulator-based training for first responders, but more knowledge is needed on how it should be designed in order to be as effective as possible. For this reason, VTI, together with the Swedish Transport Administration and other stakeholders, is running a project to develop the technology and training for blue light simulator training. The project is called SPEED, Swedish Project for Efficient Emergency Driving, and the overall goal is to reduce the risk of accidents during emergency driving, achieve a better working environment and increase the chances that those who need care, will receive it as soon as possible.

“The training will educate the drivers in risk-awareness and efficient emergency driving. If you want to drive fast but at the same time drive safely, you need drivers to constantly make trade-offs, and this is something that can be trained in a simulator,” says Björn Lidestam, senior researcher at VTI.

In a preliminary study, the researchers compiled fatal accidents involving emergency vehicles, conducted a survey among emergency personnel and developed a simple emergency scenario. A more in-depth study is now underway called Blue Light Simulator Training for real.

“We have developed typical situations that are important to practice. If you are new as an emergency response driver, there is a risk that you will become stressed when driving which will impair your driving. This is something that the simulator will help to improve.”

Pilots, train operators, and emergency response drivers all have one thing in common: they must prepare for potentially dangerous scenarios that happen infrequently but can have serious consequences if they are not prepared. In the case of emergency driving, for example, it is possible that wild animals may suddenly appear on the road.

“It is considerably riskier when you are driving over the speed limit. Then it is very important that you do not drive into a ditch or cross into the oncoming lane,” says Björn Lidestam.

He will lead a study in which the participants are randomly assigned to two groups. The experimental group will undergo the company Skillster’s simulator training for first responders. It is a course which has an increased level of difficulty where the driver randomly ends up in various critical situations, for example, a vehicle that appears unexpectedly or children playing at the side of the road.

The control group is allowed to drive for a short period in a simulator and for the most part without sirens and blue lights. They will not be exposed to any difficult situations. During the final test, both groups are used to driving in a simulator and all will be exposed to the same critical situations in the same places.

“We will then compare how quickly they have driven and what sort of risks they encountered. How close were they to having an accident? How many times were they close to driving off the road? In this type of research, we have a measure of how safe driving has been,” says Björn Lidestam.

The results will provide knowledge of how effective the simulator-based training is and how it should best be designed. Other research is being conducted in the same area at the same time. Björn Lidestam is supervising a doctoral student who is researching how to alert drivers ahead to clear the road with so-called Electronic Voice Alerts via radio. And in VTI’s workshop and large simulator laboratory, a full-scale physical ambulance simulator is being developed. In it, ambulance nurses will be able to practice caring for patients in an ambulance that is being driven at high speed negotiating the traffic. It will also be used to improve safety and ergonomics so that nurses can assist patients while wearing a seat belt.

Text: Johan Sievers/Redakta

Translation: CBG

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