Since the pandemic began, Covid-related restrictions made it harder for drivers to access traditional Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (CPC) training sessions and tests.
The last couple have years have also seen a growing HGV and PCV driver shortage, which has resulted in huge pressure on road transport firms to upskill and train.
In response, many more operators have turned to training companies offering virtual reality (VR) technology that enhances the learning process for candidates to qualify and get behind the wheel.
Dr Alex Young, CEO and founder of tech firm Virti, which designs VR simulations, said there is “no better way” to embed learning and build confidence than to give people repeated opportunities to immerse themselves in the training scenario.
“For a long time, people tended to associate VR with gaming,” he said. “But it’s in teaching and training scenarios that the technology really comes into its own.
“At Virti, we specialise in helping companies build data-driven, immersive deep learning tools to transform how people learn and help them remember skills and information for longer.
“We’ve built a set of simulations to speed up and improve the training process and qualify candidates more quickly using virtual reality.”
Virti customer, training firm Easy As HGV, is currently using fully immersive VR simulations for prospective drivers to learn and practice skills such as walkaround pre-drive safety checks, coupling and uncoupling and carrying out reversing manoeuvres.
These simulations can be accessed anywhere using headsets, desktops or mobile devices and are designed to complement the company’s four-day intensive training course.
The Virti platform generates detailed data and analytics to help candidates identify and improve gaps in their knowledge, rewatching the simulations as often as required.
Tom McGhie, MD at Easy As HGV, said feedback from candidates to the VR technology has so far has been “overwhelmingly positive.”
He said: “We desperately need to train up more drivers – and fast. We’re being inundated with enquiries and people are incredibly keen to learn.
“This VR training is going to be invaluable as it will enable candidates to revise and practice the skills they learn in our training course before they take their test.
“It’s far more effective than having them read a textbook or watch a standard, non-interactive video.”
Transport services provider Transolva Group, based in Yeovil, Somerset, is also now able to deliver immersive learning content that includes virtual reality headsets with 360 degree filming, drone view footage, eye tracking technology and an interactive smartphone app.
The company offers two VR seven-hour DVSA approved courses for professional HGV and PCV drivers, with content created by Transformotion and technology from Anet360.
For example, VR Safe Urban Driving allows drivers to experience what it is like to ride a bicycle in urban areas around a large commercial vehicle.
The course focuses on the knowledge and skills needed to share the road safely with vulnerable road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists, all within the safety of a classroom setting.
Five VR experiences recorded in real-life traffic, combined with method card-based group activities and an interactive smartphone app create an engaging experience for those who work in an urban or city environment.
In addition, the Interactive Safe Motorway Driving course covers all aspects of driving on a motorway, from joining the carriageway to travelling along it and leaving on the slip road.
Topics include hazard awareness, fuel efficiency, the impact of weather, continental driving and personal safety overnight.
The course includes four VR experiences, four drone recordings of real-life traffic to improve hazard perception, memory exercises, a bank of questions in an interactive smartphone app and eye tracking to analyse concentration and awareness.
Phil Bond, Managing Director, Transolva Group said: “The courses have been put together very well and have some great content and offer a new and exciting experience to anyone who takes the decision to attend.
“Because of the technology and investment involved, the courses carry a premium over the others we offer in our portfolio but we feel this to be acceptable as they offer excellent value for money over the traditional two attendees to one trainer current offering.”
Builders’ merchant Travis Perkins has used VR to train more than 1,000 drivers as part of its own CPC training.
This has been delivered through group workshops, with each learner receiving a set of virtual reality goggles and workbooks that are signed by the facilitator after each exercise.
According to the company, it has completely transformed the way it can show drivers how to conduct walk-around checks, drive more fuel efficiently, manoeuvre vehicles and handle road risk challenges.
Meanwhile, driver training provider Fleet Source, which has delivered periodic CPC training online to almost 15,000 drivers during the pandemic, offers VR training as part of its Safe UK Driving, Terrorism Risk and Incident Prevention and Safe Green and Efficient courses.
Its VR sessions use 360-degree footage filmed in cities, rural areas and motorways which it sources from organisations including the Police and Transport for London.
Nick Caesari, Chief Executive at Fleet Source, said that more than a decade since Driver CPC was introduced, commercial drivers deserve a break from the traditional PowerPoint lecture.
“VR can be transformative as a training tool, as drivers are totally immersed in real life situations with no distractions”, he said. “The technology enables us to create more engaging and interactive content to test drivers’ theoretical knowledge, response and reaction times.
“Instead of drivers being told about a process after an incident, they are fully immersed in the scenario, within the safety of a controlled environment.
“VR presents a huge opportunity for radical change in driver training, which is both cost effective and truly engaging and we intend to ensure that fleet operators are able to fully embrace that opportunity.”