Further development of a commercial driving simulation for research in occupational medicine

Axel Muttray 1, 2  ,  
Martin Golz 3,  
Institute of Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany
Institut für Arbeits-, Sozial- und Umweltmedizin, Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz, Obere Zahlbacher Straße 67, D-55131, Mainz, Germany
Faculty of Informatics, University of Applied Sciences Schmalkalden, Schmalkalden, Germany
Institute of Forensic Medicine, University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany
Int J Occup Med Environ Health 2013;26(6):949–965
Objectives: The purpose of this study was to refine a commercial car driving simulation for occupational research. As the effects of ethanol on driving behavior are well established, we choose alcohol as a test compound to investigate the performance of subjects during simulation. Materials and Methods: We programmed a night driving scenario consisting of monotonous highway and a rural road on a Foerst F10-P driving simulator. Twenty healthy men, 19-30 years, participated in a pilot study. Subjects were screened for simulator sickness, followed by training on the simulator one hour in total. Experiments were performed in the morning on a separate day. Participants were randomized into either an alcoholized or a control group. All subjects drove two courses consisting of highway and rural road and were sober for the first course. During a 1 h break the ethanol group drank an alcoholic beverage to yield 0.06% blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Generalized linear mixed models were used to analyze the influence of alcohol on driving performance. Among others, independent variables were Simulator Sickness Questionnaire scores and subjective sleepiness. Results: Subjects did not experience simulator sickness during the experiments. Mean BAC before the second test drive was 0.065% in the mildly intoxicated group. There was no clear-cut difference in the number of crashes between 2 groups. BAC of 0.1% would deteriorate mean braking reaction time by 237 ms (SE = 112, p < 0.05). Ethanol slightly impaired the tracking in the righthand curves (p = 0.058). Braking reaction time improved by 86 ms (SE = 36, p < 0.05) for the second test drive, indicating a learning effect. Conclusions: In sum, a clear ethanol effect was observed in the driving simulation. This simulation seems suitable for occupational research and produces little simulator sickness. Controlling for possible learning effects is recommended in driving simulation studies.