Providing Virtual Roads

Montreal, January 20, 2016 - Virage Simulation delivers range of driving experiences to remote northern communities

By: Phil Fine

It’s hard to learn how to drive when there are few roads on which to practice.

The northern Quebec town of Kuujjuaq has fewer than 23 km of paved roads and a handful of stop signs, and is accessible only by plane and boat. Its student drivers can only experience a fraction of the driving and traffic situations experienced by learners elsewhere. For those reasons, drivers there and in the wider region of Kativik were oncey issued territorial licenses, which exempted them from the provincial government driving test.

However, territorial licenses had a limited range, which meant large numbers of Nunavimmiut would find themselves unable to work on a mine site where insurance rules required licensed drivers or drive a rental car during their visits to Montreal.

Georges-Henri Lefebvre, an education consultant at the Kativik School Board, knows all too well that the community lacks roads. “There are no highways in Kuujjuaq,” he says and adds that the closest driving school is 1,500 km away.

“Many Inuit go to Montreal for job opportunities and to visit family,” says Lefebvre, whose school board has long recognized the social and economic isolation that not having a “southern” licence can create.

Not only has it thwarted job opportunities like trucking and stopped many from simply renting a car, but the lack of driver training has also led to more risk-taking behaviour on Nunavik roads, according to Lefebvre.

The Kativik Regional Government employment and training department, with the blessing of the province’s transportation authority, the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec, teamed up with the school board to offer courses that would help people qualify for a “southern” license.

And that’s where Virage Simulation comes in.

The regional government purchased two of the company’s VS500M driving simulators for Kuujjuaq and Inukjuak. Remi Quimper, President of Virage Simulation, and Dr. Pierro Hirsch, Director of Research and Program Development, visited Kuujjuaq to better understand the environment where kids start driving ATVs at the age of eight. Once there, they met with local school board authorities and teachers who taught them about the community’s needs, recalls Remi Quimper.

“After our visit and follow-up consultations, we developed a complete set of training scenarios to cover 11 of the 15 hours of on-road lessons and to complement the 24 hours of theory required by the Quebec mandatory driver training program. In addition, we programmed twelve more hours of innovative, self-paced practice scenarios based on the principles of serious gaming to help these new drivers master correct habits and to compensate for the lack of available supervised driving.”

Upon graduation, students in Kuujjuaq and Inukjuak earn a probationary drivers permit; two years later they can receive their Class 5 permit. Lefebvre estimates that since the arrival of the simulators, between 100 and 150 new drivers have received their Class 5, the standard Quebec permit issued to drivers of passenger vehicles, and use it for work.

“Novice drivers become licensed after doing over 70% of the compulsory on-road training on a driving simulator,” says Dr. Hirsch, pointing out the unique nature of this program. “To the best of my knowledge, the Kativik program is the first and only one of its kind in the world.”

Virage Simulation driving simulators and training programs help students living anywhere experience myriad road, traffic and weather condition safely. For Kuujjuaq and Inukjuak and the whole region of Nunavik, these learning experiences pave the way for safer driving practices and provide northerners more opportunity for work and a way to better merge onto Quebec’s network of roads and highways.