Students graduate from virtual driving school

Story and photo by Christine June
USAG Kaiserslautern

Kaiserslautern High School senior Suzy Han, 18, hasn’t killed a virtual deer in weeks while using the driving simulator during her driver education class.

Suzy and 14 of her fellow classmates graduated Feb. 12 from the first Driver’s Education Theory class, sponsored by the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe and U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern.

“This course gives students background information, experience and a little bit of what to expect when they do get their license and are driving,” said Lynn Rice, the garrison’s school liaison officer.

These graduates were the first to use the FOERST Driving Simulator provided by the Army’s Installation Management Command – Europe. Ten simulators, including the one in Kaiserslautern, were installed in the region to enhance driver’s education programs for students. A simulator is also located on Ramstein.

“(The simulator) is really realistic,” said KHS junior Candace Sanchez, 17. “You can hear the sound of the turning signal. You can hear the windshield wipers and the horn. It just gets you ready for all the different sounds that you are going to hear on the road.”

Reflecting real-world driving comes through multi-panel monitors, offering a natural awareness of peripheral vision. It is complete with a rearview mirror and side mirrors.

“Students get to experience the car in motion, stopping the car and searching for obstacles or hazards that they might face as they are driving not only under normal conditions but also when driving at night or in the rain or snow,” said Tom Burriss, the KHS Driver’s Ed teacher.

The student can choose to use the simulator in manual or automatic mode.

“No one in my family knows how to use a clutch so I’m the first to learn how to shift gears,” said Suzy, who does not yet have her driver’s license.

Ramstein High School senior Jeremy Way, 18, said the simulator was a fun way to learn, but could be annoying at times.

“Deer would just pop out of nowhere, truly nowhere; they would just appear and BOOM! They come out right in front of you and just stop there,” he said.

Mr. Burriss said the class is divided into 18 chapters discussing topics such as buying a car and the basic function and controls of a car.

For graduation, students had to complete 50 hours in the classroom – two hours during the week and four hours on Saturdays. They were tested after each chapter and the four units, as well as taking a final exam.

This course counts for .5 high school semester credits. It may also help graduates receive a discount on car insurance when they do start driving, Mrs. Rice said.

“It takes a lot of commitment,” said Mr. Burriss, who added that the students are still in school and this course was in addition to their homework assignments.

A date has not yet been determined for the next course. This course is for 16 to 18 year olds, with the oldest ages receiving priority, Mrs. Rice said.

Those interested in attending need to register at the garrison’s Child Youth School Service’s Central Enrollment in Bldg. 2898 on Pulaski Barracks. For more information, call 493-4122 or 0631-3406-4122.

Ramstein students will need to contact the 435th Services Squadron or inquire at their school.