Simulations have long been a part of driver education. Back in my day we sat in a classroom equipped with a movie screen that played video of a road course while each student manipulated a set of car like controls to react to situations presented on-screen, such as having a kid run out in front of you or a vehicle blowing through a 4-way stop. I’m not sure the exercise imparted any useful information about how to handle a car IRL, but it absolutely helped prepare me for unexpected events while driving. The simulation helped me conclude that these types of surprises probably happened a lot if they went to all this trouble. It showed me that driving was more about being mentally prepared to react in a controlled manner than it was about going fast, which, until this class, was all my teen boy brain was concerned with.
Fast forward 20 years and I now have two teens of my own who are ready to prepare for entering the highways and city streets. The thought scares the crap out of me. Roads are much more congested than they were even 10 years ago. I see and interact with so many incompetent drivers on the way to and from work each day that it boggles my mind. How did the lady putting on her makeup doing 60 in a 45 get her license? Why is the guy behind me intent on being less than a foot from my rear bumper? Doesn’t he have even a rudimentary understanding of physics? What makes that girl think she can read her phone and pilot a two and half ton vehicle moving at 88 feet every second at the same time? We all know she can’t walk and chew gum without running into the door.
I love driving, it’s one of my favorite activities in life. That being said, I cannot wait until cars drive themselves and humans are forbidden from touching the wheel. Too many of us do not give driving the respect it deserves and it costs others their lives. Just a few months ago I was hit on the freeway by someone changing lanes without looking because they were texting instead of paying attention to their driving. They pulled right into me at 60 mph. If I hadn’t been a well-trained driver, we’d both be dead. I was able to recover from the skid caused by the impact and come to a stop before going off a 30 foot high embankment that ended in a dry creek bed. My manuevers also stopped the other vehicle from taking the plunge, my car formed a guard rail for it, LOL.
I happen to have a decent gaming rig and I’ve long been a fan of racing games, so I also have a Thurstmaster T150 Force Feedback Wheel and pedal set. I play a lot of Assetto Corsa with it. The game is a fantastic race simulator. I know that playing it has made me a better driver. The military, air line pilots, boat captains, and F-1 race drivers all use simulators to hone their skills. I want my children to be ready for anything and have the skills it takes to handle a vehicle in any situation. Could a driving sim help teach my kids? Research time!
I knew that tossing my daughter in Ferrari 458 at the ring wasn’t going to help her understand how to drive around our city. It may help her understand the physics of handling a car but there are no 4 way stops on Laguna Seca. As it turns out there are very few road driving simulators that concern themselves with the actual rules of the road. The only one that matters is City Car Driving. For only $25.00, I decided to give it a go.
The game has full support for wheel input including force feedback, HD and UHD graphics and even supports VR. It downloaded from Steam in a few minutes and installed with no issues. The wheel setup was a little tricky, it doesn’t have a default set of controls mappings that match the T150. I started out with the default settings and spent around 30 minutes mapping the controls. If you get the game and have this wheel ask for the config in the comments and I’d be happy to send my setup to you.
This is not a AAA title with a multimillion dollar development budget so I didn’t expect much in the way of graphics. I was pleasantly surprised, it looks decent; not on the same level as AC or Forsa 7 but more than good enough to get the job done. I’m running it at 2160p on my monitor and 1080P when we play in VR and either way the graphics are good enough to be immersive. The simulation is scary good if you have an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive combined with a force feed back wheel. You can look over your shoulder out the rear window and check out the people sitting next to you at stop lights. Also, being able to look into the corners is far more realistic than the pan view that happens on a flat monitor. Combining that with the bumps and slides the wheel emulates leads me to forget I’m not actually driving a car sometimes.
The game features a career mode in which a digital instructor leads you through a series of missions that range from buckling your seatbelt and starting the car and basic navigation through high-speed evasive maneuvers. To keep things fun you unlock more exotic vehicles as you progress through the stages. The simulator ensures you learn everything from the ground up and nags you when you do things like turning without your blinker, or pulling out without looking around a corner. It costs you points when you drive poorly and you don’t level up as quickly. You can set it to rules for countries other than the United States, I can see how this would be helpful if you need to drive in Europe on a business trip.
City Car Driving simulates every kind of weather: fog, rain, ice, and snow are all accounted for. All of the road surfaces you might encounter: cobble stone, dirt, gravel, pavement, and concrete are also available. It has you drive in the county, in a city, and even in a state park. I was shocked at the number of environments it prepares young drivers for. I personally learned to drive in the snow on the way home from my first job when it snowed 2 feet in early October. I would prefer that my kids not have that butt clenching experience if it can be avoided.
There are pedestrians, aggressive drivers, rush hour traffic, accidents, and police to deal with. Roads as small as dirt trails to 8 lane freeways are required routes in the various missions. In short, it is wholly representative of real life driving.
The answer to the question posed in the title is a resounding yes. A game can absolutely help teach your teen, or even yourself, be a better driver. I will require mine to complete the entire career mode before they are allowed to get behind the wheel of the real thing on a public road. They’ve already learned much from the application, my oldest who is studying for her permit just told me how much the game helps the meanings of the signs stick in her memory. Seeing them in action is better than memorizing them from a book in the same way that singing a song is easier than memorizing the same text on a page.