Drunk driving takes the lives of more than 10,000 people each year. Young drivers, aged 16 to 24 years old make up 42% of drivers involved in fatal drunk-driving crashes.
Drunk driving, drug-impaired driving, drowsy driving, and distracted driving are also the leading reasons for fatal car crashes.
When people, especially young drivers, face these situations, they are often overconfident about their impaired driving abilities and think it is not a big deal.
All of this impaired driving is 100% preventable by the drivers. So it is important to raise their awareness of the risks of impaired driving before they make deadly mistakes.
How might we raise young drivers' risk awareness of impaired driving?
We wanted to let users experience what it’s like when you drive under the influences of alcohol, marijuana, tiredness, and distractions in VR in order to show them why they shouldn’t do this in their real lives.
Our target users are 16- to 24-year-old young drivers. They made up 42% of drivers involved in fatal drunk-driving crashes. Even though the minimum legal drinking age in every state is 21, data shows 16% of 15- to 18-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2016 had been drinking. *source: nhtsa.gov
The idea of this product is to let users experience impaired driving in advance before it happens in their real lives. Therefore, VR is ideal for the concept.
VR is also an ideal media for promotion to young people. Both high schools and the DMV are looking at using VR to improve the experience and effects of certain programs.
Step 1: Research
I did a lot of research on related data and facts from the NHTSA and neurologists to gain a more precise understanding of how alcohol, marijuana, tiredness, and distraction impair driving abilities.
I also collected some descriptions of how people feel when they drive under the influence from in-person interviews and online videos.
Step 2: Workshops
Step 3: Rapid paper prototypes
Grip the steering wheel
The biggest technical challenge we conquered was to make players be able to intuitively hold and steer the steering wheel like driving a real car.
Chapter 1: Hit the road
We designed the game as a journey of a college student driving to San Francisco. The player is a recently-hired employee at a Silicon Valley company and must drive there soon for the first day of work because he lied about his address on his application.
We let the player start by sober driving for two main reasons. The player can get used to driving in VR and have a comparison with the impaired driving later.
Chapter 2: Party night
However, on the way, the player stops at his friend's house for one last party before leaving. After the crazy partying all night, there is a spinning wheel to choose how you feel. There are three options: drunk driving, high driving, and drowsy driving. Distracted driving will be an optional add-on when you drive.
Chapter 3: Impaired driving
Our VR game not only simulates hazards on your way but adds distractions and simulates the various effects of tiredness, drunkenness, and being high while driving, interfering with your ability to make decisions.
Unfortunately, our protagonist didn't plan properly, so now the player is forced to drive drowsily on his way to San Francisco. Your tiredness requires you to physically shake your head with the VR headset to wake up, or else your eyes close while you're in the middle of the road.
Chapter 4: Pull over or Game over?
Most importantly, pulling over for a break is always an option. Pulling over is encouraged to help clear the effects of the impairment at a sacrifice to time but to the benefit of everybody's safety.
Unfortunately, our protagonist doesn't pull over to take a rest, and chooses to keep driving drowsily.
The punishment for the harm you cause on the environment ranges from amassed tickets blocking your windshield, a crime meter that knows when you've blown through red lights and run over beloved pets, and the potential to end your life in a crash.
We conducted user testing with 8 young people, ranging from tech college students to high school students who had never tried VR before.
All of them loved our idea and the story. There was a 16-year-old girl who came to test the demo with her mom, and her mom also got very excited about our safety educational product for her daughter.
We received much useful feedback including technical frustrations, concrete suggestions, and constructive criticism. We will take all of these testing results to the product iteration.
Challenges we ran into
We had to find a delicate balance between the humor of the game, funny music and low-poly art style, and the seriousness of the topic, which involved dangerous behaviors that we didn't want to encourage by making them too fun or rewarding.
We wanted to give the option to do the right thing at any time, hence the player is able to pull over for a break to try to wait out the impairments. But we wanted the experience to still involve embodying the poor decision-making that would have led to this experience.
We prototyped the drowsy driving as our first demo to test. We hope to prototype the other three states of driving impairment to fully complete the original conception of the game.
To simulate the effects of drunkenness, we will remove all the warning sound effects and make the controls fight you more as you struggle to keep your body and mind responsive.
To simulate being high while driving, there will be many wild thoughts scrolling past your windshield, and a changed color scheme that makes non-relevant objects brighter and shinier while potential hazards are colored grey and harder to notice.
To simulate texting while driving, messages will pop up that you must respond to because they block your vision.
We'd also like to explore the possibility of helping with motion sickness, to experiment and try to find best practices to avoid it, especially in the context of driving in VR.