My favorite driver’s ed moment

One of the comments on my last post reminds me of a story.

Back when I took driver’s education  – which would have been the fall of 1979 – one of the modules of the class was spending time in the “simulator”.

I used quotes around term “simulator”, because what it really was was pretend driving. Less like playing a first-person driving game – not even like playing Pole Position – but more like playing with one of these:

But less interesting…

Here’s how it worked.

You sat in a room with about 12 other students. In front of you you had simulated controls – there was a speedometer, a steering wheel, turn signals, brake, and accelerator. At the front of the room there was a movie screen, on which you would watch a movie taken out the front of a car, and while watching, you would pretend to drive.

The sole feedback system consisted of a red light on your console. If the system – assuming it’s not to grandiose to call $2.00 of electronic components a system – thought that you were outside the acceptable parameters, it would light up the red light, and you would come to the attention to the drowsy shop teacher who had to get up at 4:30 to run this thing. I think it also logged your non-compliance, probably using cuneiform.

Each of the consoles had a speedometer, which ran off a motor which got its input from the accelerator and throttle. That helped everybody develop the all-important skill of keeping their fake speed correct.

Rudimentary motor control skills were enough to be compliant in most cases – presuming you could figure out what was coming up in the old, scratch movie. One day we were doing some freeway driving – which meant I was “traveling” at the highly patriotic double nickel – and we got into an interchange to go onto another freeway.

Or at least that’s what I thought it was. But it turned out that it was a right-turning exit that ended in a stoplight. By the time I realized that, I only had about a second before the car was coming to a stop. I spun the wheel, started braking, and as the car in the movie stopped, I looked down, and noticed that my speedometer was dropping through 40 MPH. It took at least another second before it dropped to zero.  I took a deep breath, and waited for the approach of Mr. Schmeer.

And the red light stayed off.

Turns out that the system didn’t check for your speed – only for your inputs. I was on the brakes as I came up to the light, and that was good enough for it. Similarly, if you were turning to the right, it didn’t differentiate how far you turned. You just needed to turn.

Simulator class was a lot more fun after that.

Comments (4)

  1. Heh, I have the toy pictured above. Not for me, but for my first grader when he was little. He is not playing with it now, of course. My better half had me dissembling it and cleaning inside around last Christmas. A lot of dried food inside. It is spanky clean now.

    I imagine maybe that’s your daughter’s toy when she was little? By the way, for the longest time, I thought you must be a Chinese from your email alias, because Gu sounds like a Chinese last name. I couldn’t remember when I had the epiphany that you are not.

    Always enjoyed your posts. Keep up the great work.

  2. Lynn Roth says:

    I had to do the simulator in driver’s training too, in 1993.  Sounds like the same thing too.  There wasn’t really much to do other than watch the movie and try to follow along.  Odd way of "learning".

  3. Ben Fulton says:

    I did that!  I don’t know how anyone who played videogames was able to deal with the lack of feedback from the controls.  I was good at Centipede, and horrible at the simulator.