Virtual reality has become a huge breakthrough over the last few years, particularly in gaming. Putting this 360-degree tech-frenzy to an educational use, police officers have been educating cyclists and drivers about road safety. Road-related accidents are one of the most common causes of injury (and even fatality), and on average, over 3,400 deaths occur daily*. FORWARDER magazine spoke to the Metropolitan Police, who gave us an insight into how exactly these VR clips are making our roads a safer place.

360-degree virtual reality (VR) gives users a different type of experience to watching a video on-screen. The user places a blacked-out headset on (similar to a ski mask), but a mobile device is placed in the “window” of the headset, meaning that the device is the user’s peripheral vision. With artificial intelligence technology, the user can physically turn and twist themselves a whole three-hundred and sixty degrees, and video will mirror the user’s physical responses. Giving a 3D affect, this VR experience is like no other and the user is captivated in a virtual reality. Quite understandably, this can achieve powerful and eye-opening affects on the user. Met Police recognised this and now uses this method of education to put a user in a real-like situation. Police officers can now set road-users in dangerous circumstances such as a bike incident or a car crash, all without facing the physical or long-term emotional consequences.

‘We are the team that is responsible for delivering Exchanging Places, an educational tool that has been running since 2010 in excess of 45,000 people.’, says Stephen Wilson, Cycle Safety Team. The police force has been educating drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to look out for hazards such as blind spots, left-turning vehicles and opening doors. The content is available to all, and the message is uniform. Stephen explained a little more about the videos that are shown through VR technology.

Dooring– This video educates drivers on awareness and safety of cyclists on the road. According to Met, two fatalities and over 700 accidents occur in London through car drivers opening their door on cyclists. However, in Holland, the number of injuries are a considerably lower 250.** So, how is this number so low when Amsterdam is thriving with cyclists? New drivers are taught to use their adjacent hand to open the car door from the inside, meaning that they have to turn their body (and will therefore either be encouraged to look behind them to check for cyclists, or will look into their wing mirror) top open their car door. Encouraging safety checks before opening a vehicle door could save a cyclist from injury or even fatality, and is one of the reasons cyclists are at a great risk when cycling past parallel parked cars.

‘We also have a video that is currently being edited, which uses the same technology to highlight the benefits of the Dutch-reach method of door opening. The driver or pedestrian uses the “off hand” to open a car door, which causes the body to turn, giving an improved position to view outside the vehicle. HGV’s turning left and doors being opened into the path of cyclists are the most dangerous and most numerous, respectively, incidents involving cyclist injuries.’

Exchanging Places– Another form of education for cyclists and their safety when travelling via roads, which focuses on HGVs. Prior to the 360-degree VR clips, police forces offered cyclists a chance to sit in a HGV with a police officer, while a second officer would ride around the vehicle to highlight areas of danger such as left-turning vehicles and key blind spots. To carry out one safety demonstration, it could take up to 4 officers during ‘lesson’. This was time-consuming and would mean four police officers had to be present.

Since the VR 360 videos have been introduced, the Met Police are able to provide quick and safe educational visits that requires less time and staff.

‘Moving forward we have noticed that not every location or user has the ability to climb into a truck, so we took the decision to move to virtual reality. This has been far more efficient to run the project, as two policing staff can now deliver to up to 16 people at one time. We are also less vulnerable to the weather [affecting the experience], as the equipment is portable and can be delivered indoors.’

Simulated car crash– designed to shock, the VR simulated car crash places the user as the passenger in a car crash. This video represents how distracted driving, such as mobile phone use, not paying attention, distracting passengers and speeding can all lead to dangerous driving, resulting in a severe crash. ‘We have a simulated car crash that is not for everyone but highlights the dangers of driving whilst distracted, which was produced by the another force’ explains Stephen. The VR experience enacts the scene of a car crash, placing the VR user as the front-seat passenger, witnessing the dangers, the crash, and the distressing scenes after the crash. Whilst the Met Police recognise that this video might not be for everyone and can leave viewers shocked, it uses a more impactful method in order for the message to hit home. Whether you’re a driver or passenger, it’s important to recognise dangers before they become out of control.

Not only do these videos provide an educational message, but they also provide warning for the consequences that follow. Drivers may speed or allow distractions due to smaller consequences such as being late to work, or acting cool in front of friends. However, the consequences to dangers could be much worse, such as putting yours and other lives at risk, or facing jail time should the danger cost a life. With the use of these VR experiences, road users can be taught to be aware and vigilant of the dangers around them.

‘Another major advantage is that the video itself doesn’t require any expensive equipment to present to its audience. Although we use the oculus VR system, the video has been uploaded to YouTube and works with any smart phone device. Simply hold the device out in front of you whilst the video is running and it will be useable to you. Part of the reason for this is these dangers aren’t London-only problems, and whilst many cities and forces may not experience the same numbers of incidents, there is no reason why they cannot benefit from our resources.

‘Any Local authority or police force can contact us for a copy of the video for their own use.’

The Metropolitan Police have been showcasing these educational videos for over ten years, tackling the factors that contribute to accidents that occur daily. Our roads can be made safer with a little more thought and care, which is exactly the message these videos aim to achieve.

Rachel Jefferies, Editor, FORWARDER magazine

*2017, Gov.UK statistics

** Stats from DfT