ICBC’s Street Sense app aims to help young drivers

ICBC’s new app doesn’t replicate the feel of being behind the wheel or replace the valuable lessons new drivers learn by getting out on the road. Instead, the app’s developers hope it will help new drivers – and those new to BC – to recognize hazards more easily.

Launched this week, the Street Sense app is essentially an educational video game that runs users through 15 scenarios involving common driving hazards in BC

The scenarios include turning left at a busy downtown intersection, spotting and avoiding a deer about to jump into the road, and merging into a multi-lane roundabout, among others.

It’s a concept John Nepomuceno, ICBC’s road safety program manager, has been working on since he joined the company in 2017, though he says the iteration of the project that became Street Sense began development in December 2020.

“The process begins with us looking over our accident data, and then I wanted to verify – get some ground truth from some of our driver licensing folks,” Nepomuceno told CTV News.

(I) wanted to ask them, ‘How are people failing, from your perspective?’ … What are the patterns of crashes people are having the most difficulty with, especially young people?”

From there, the ICBC team developed storyboards for the app they wanted to make. They shared those storyboards with Project Whitecard, the Winnipeg-based developer that then created the app.

The provincial government and TELUS also contributed to the project, with the latter covering the cost of the software development, according to Nepomuceno.

While the game looks like a driving simulator, it’s not really designed to replicate the experience of driving, Nepomuceno said.

“We’ve consulted extensively with driver instructors about this, and we know there’s no possible way we can replace the feeling of a steering wheel in your hands and a brake pedal at your feet, so we’ve not tried,” he said. “Instead, what we focused on is the scanning portion.”

He said the app serves the same function that an experienced driver in the passenger seat does for new drivers with “L” licenses.

“That’s actually your lowest lifetime risk of being in a crash, as a driver, is when you’re an L driver with an experienced driver sitting next to you,” Nepomuceno said. “The reason for that is that experienced driver is doing the heavy lifting of scanning the road, warning you about the pedestrian on the corner, warning you about the oncoming traffic, telling you you should back off on your speed because you’re following too close.”

Drivers with “N” licenses, who are no longer required to have an experienced driver in the car with them, are 1.5 times more likely to crash, according to ICBC.

Nepomuceno attributes that statistic to the loss of the experienced copilot.

“As soon as you have your N license, that person is gone and you’re on your own, while those (hazard recognition) skills haven’t necessarily been developed,” he said. “This app will try to bring you back to that point where you’ve got somebody telling you what to do, and then, now, you can demonstrate what you can do within this app. If you make a mistake, you can do it in this app and do it safely. If you make a mistake on the road, it’s far more dangerous.”

Both web-based and downloadable versions of Street Sense are available, but Nepomuceno said ICBC expects the game’s main audience to be on mobile phones.

As of Thursday, a few days after the app’s launch, it had been downloaded nearly 5,000 times, a response Nepomuceno called “very encouragement.”

A virtual reality version of the app is expected to be released soon.

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