Ford hopes its virtual reality program will make interactions between cars and bicycles less dangerous.
60 percent of people who took the virtual experience changed their driving or riding behaviors.
Ask cyclists, and they'll tell you that drivers are menaces on the road with no regard for their safety. Ask motorists, and they'll tell you cyclists are the villains causing trouble in traffic. Now Ford is using virtual reality to help European cyclists and drivers each see things from the other perspective – and hopefully reduce accidents in the process.
The program, called WheelSwap, uses a virtual reality headset so that participants can see what it's like when others engage in risky behavior. For cyclists, that means seeing a driver's point of view when a rider runs a red light, rides the wrong way down a one-way street or swerves in front of a car.
Drivers, on the other hand, get a cyclist's perspective of how it feels when someone passes a bike too closely, changes lanes without signaling or opens a car door in the path of a rider. You can get a brief taste of what the virtual reality experience looks like in the video clip embedded below, or at Ford's Share The Road campaign website.
Ford says that in Europe, cyclists account for one in 12 road fatalities. In the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 2.2 percent of all road deaths in 2016 were cyclists.
A trial of the Ford WheelSwap program with 1,200 users in Europe had promising results for changing people's real-world behavior. Two weeks after the virtual reality experience, 60 percent of participants had changed their driving or cycling behavior and 70 percent "displayed greater empathy" to other road users, the company says. Ford plans to integrate WheelSwap into its free Driving Skills For Life teen-driver training program, as well as putting the videos on YouTube.