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Toyota uses Oculus Rift to train teens not to text and drive

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No matter how much we may hate waiting on VR, there's at least one reason to be grateful it's taken so long: old driver's ed classes would almost certainly have been unable to handle this technology responsibly.

Consider, for example, Toyota's "TeenDrive365" Oculus Rift experience. Launched at the Detroit Auto Show today, it's an immersive simulation of what distracted driving feels like. You get into a real (but stationary) car, put on a head-mounted display, and steer your way down a virtual highway. Slowly, irritations build up: loud music, ringing phones, your friend trying to make you read a text message. Look away, and you crash.

Driving simulators are increasingly common, and like flight sims before them, they can train people to make split-second decisions without the heavy consequences of failure. Usually, this involves flat screens that simulate car windows. The Rift's head tracking makes it an inspired choice here, since Toyota can actually tell if you're not paying attention to the road. The immersion reduces distractions from the outside and can create a sense of urgency — even, in a crash, fear.

Now, imagine virtual reality — a technology that at its best can make you feel as if you're really in a world — in the hands of the people behind blood-drenched vehicle safety PSAs like Red Asphalt, Signal 30, or Highways of Agony. It's entirely possible that no one would ever have used a car again.

Today, though, this is just part of Toyota's decidedly non-terrifying TeenDrive365 program, whose major current offerings include "safety GIFs" and a series about race car drivers. If you feel the need to try it for yourself, it will be touring auto shows around the US.