January 31, 2023, Durham, NC – iRT is dedicated to developing high quality, evidence-based programs for children, teens, and families using emerging technologies. Drs. Rebecca Stelter and Allison Schmidt, research scientists at iRT, are integrating virtual reality (VR) technology into the online safe driving program, Plan My Ride, to provide teens with more immersive ways to learn strategies to prevent impaired and distracted driving.

Stelter and Schmidt, Co-Principal Investigators for the Plan My Ride project, have utilized and investigated immersive technologies by attending the 2022 DevLearn Conference & Expo, developing 360-degree videos for safe driving programs, and studying literature regarding the value of VR for learning outcomes. Considering their findings, the team is enhancing Plan My Ride’s online lessons with VR so teens can feel more present in the virtual environment and become more confident in their decision-making skills for safe driving.

Plan My Ride provides interactive learning activities to teach teens skills to communicate, plan ahead, and make decisions to avoid distracted driving, substance use, driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and riding with an impaired driver. VR-based role-play activities allow for practice of these skills and improve learning outcomes for teens. Recent research has shown that VR is particularly effective for skills acquisition learning tasks such as rehearsing behaviors needed in an emergency situation and practicing interpersonal and social skills. Interactive VR role play training has also demonstrated greater effectiveness in teaching skills compared to in-person role play situations, likely for a few reasons, including having opportunities for experimentation without embarrassment or adverse consequences present in classroom role-play situations, and more accurate representation of real-life situations.

iRT has hired Horizon Productions, a leading VR production company in Durham, NC, to cast, direct, and film three decision-making scenarios for the Plan My Ride program. Combining the expertise of iRT’s subject matter experts and Horizon’s VR specialists, Plan My Ride will use this cutting-edge immersive technology to teach teens social, communication, and planning skills for safe driving.

Stelter and Schmidt will evaluate the success of the use of VR in the Plan My Ride program in a randomized controlled trial.

The team is excited to learn more about VR for use in other prevention programs. If you are interested learning more about the upcoming second edition of the Plan My Ride program or in collaborating with iRT on a future VR project, contact aschmidt@irtinc.us or rstelter@irtinc.us.