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My 19 y.o. daughter has had her driver's license for 2 years, but still dreads driving in urban cities like San Francisco or New York. Her driving instructor says this dread is common, and recommended a driver simulator (like how the computer game Microsoft Flight Simulator can help with learning flying), but doesn't know any recent simulators. He brought up the Midtown Madness computer games, but they're outdated.

We tried American Truck Simulator but it's not designed for city driving:

I realise we cant have GTA V levels of detail to the cities in this game but when Los Angeles and San Francisco consists of like 10 streets it breaks immersion.

The software must be run on a Windows laptop. We'll buy her a PC Steering Wheel & Pedals.

  • Railroad Tycoon? – Luke Sawczak Jul 24 at 20:04
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    > We'll buy her a PC Steering Wheel & Pedals. You'd also need to buy a large number of monitors, as one of the most challenging things about city driving is processing all the information there is to take in. ------ As a person who'd prefer not to kill a cyclist, one thing that made city driving less anxious for me was a wide-angle mirror: amazon.com/Kitbest-Mirror-Rearview-Interior-Effectively/dp/… – Andrew M. Farrell Jul 28 at 10:30
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"City Car Driving" Home Edition by Forward Development, Ltd., published by Forward Global Group, Ltd.

It is available on Steam, currently for $25. City Car Driving supports steering wheel, pedals, manual transmission stick shifter, and VR headsets.

I am having my 16 child spend hours in this simulator before we hit the parking lot. I'm doing it for the same reason pilots, astronauts, and ship crew spend hours in simulators: it's a way to get familiar with the basics before you get in something intimidating, expensive, and dangerous.

But the nicest parenting win is that a simulator removes the parent-child dynamic from the messiest part of beginning driving. No one is there to see the early stalls, grinds, and driving into ditches. It's the PC that evaluates performance, and permits advancement.

I intend to let my child enjoy my 1960 Triumph TR3, but not before the basics of steering and shifting are mastered.

  • Oh, and I currently live 20 min from downtown San Francisco. "Fear" of collisions or mishaps is PERFECTLY REASONABLE. Automobiles are the number one killer of American teens. The dangers are objectively real, and suggestions that there is an underlying pathology that should be treated with therapy is ridiculous. – Charlweed Aug 7 at 19:29
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I'd shoot that down right quick.

If she wants to learn how to drive in a major city like SF or NY then she should get used to moving 15 miles per hour and master parallel parking. There's not a whole lot more to it than that unless she has a manual transmission car.

I learned to drive in SF, and I lived there 8 years as a driver. Typically I didn't drive because in major cities cars aren't as necessary but that's probably beside the point. Everything moves slower there as far as cars go. The lights are not timed so that 35 miles per hour will send you through green lights for miles at a time. No, they are timed to stop you every few blocks because otherwise traffic would explode.

Most of the streets will alternate between one way this way and one way that way. You get used to it, and it improves traffic flow. You'll still be moving slowly, but just with a few more signs to deal with.

Other drivers aren't as scary as some may suggest. There's a lot of tight merging because it's sort of like a slow motion game of opportunity there. If you need left, throw your blinker on and move when you have the chance. Other drivers expect this, so should she, and they slow down and you get in. That part can seem spooky at first, but eventually you see the efficiency of it and become that driver as well.

All of this is a generalization that suggests city driving is not that hard or scary and by no means can a driving simulator prepare you for it. Even if you had 600 hours of a VR driving instruction game, it's still just some fakeness and the brain will still go into panic when it comes time to put you to a real test. So just skip the preparations in some digital form. Practice driving locally. Deliberately get into traffic jams and drive around downtown where the streets may have one way designations that will better simulate a major city in all parts. Park a lot. Parallel only. Master that.

Lastly don't forget this fact: The signs say speed limit, not speed minimum. She can always slow down. Other cars will move around her. That goes for the freeway as well. Yeah, a slow moving driver can be more dangerous than a fast one, but often in major cities the highway structure is so complex that highway traffic isnt much faster (and often slower) than the streets. All depending on the time of day of course, but you'll feel that one out as well.

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    > that suggests city driving is not that hard or scary The fact that you've concluded that the problem is not hard or scary indicates that you've not fully understood the problem. I notice for instance that your answer mention that city driving brings with it the opportunity to run into a pedestrian who wasn't there a minute ago or to crush a cyclist to death whom you pin up against a concrete barrier as you make a right turn. – Andrew M. Farrell Jul 28 at 10:28
  • Did you also notice the 8 years of driving in the city? Nevermind the unknown years of being a passenger in that same city. It's pretty easy to stop a car for that unknown pedestrian when you're not moving in the first place. Plus, that's not really as common as one might think. Believe it or not most people have the presence of mind to not walk into traffic - unless you're in the tenderloin. The real problem here is the belief that some simulator will ease the mind in any way or NOT contribute to a bad habit that would be harder to undo than just learning from experience in the first place. – Kai Qing Jul 28 at 17:05
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    Right, you are a skilled and confident driver. That is my point: your skill and comfort in doing comes from intuition about how to drive effectively. This intuition makes difficult to see what is hard about it -- you don't feel the anxiety that the poster's daughter feels. How can the poster's daughter gain that intuitive skill and comfort without putting others at risk? – Andrew M. Farrell Jul 29 at 9:42
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    What in my post suggested I was a skilled confident driver? I learned in a city that's practically vertical in a manual transmission car. I was sure I would kill everyone and myself. It was only the experience of actually driving there that showed me it's not really a hectic, fast paced craze. It's slow and dull. You do sometimes have to merge 4 lanes over, but even then just slowing down will help that. My whole point is to NOT believe playing a game will help this. I would panic if I signed up for military service and their training was to have people just play call of duty. – Kai Qing Jul 29 at 15:40
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    I feel like a piloting simulator familiarizes you with 150 different controls that all do very different things. You cannot take a written test and a 2 hour driving instruction and get a pilot license. And no valid flight school will use Ace Combat as a training utility - which I only mention because the OP mentioned GTA V which is astoundingly irresponsible to base actual driving off a thing like that. Plus, modern planes aren't wholly manual, most have co-pilots, and extensive training with instructors who do take them into real world scenarios. – Kai Qing Jul 30 at 18:29
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I'm a grown man driving for about 15 years now and I still dread driving in large cities like San Francisco or New York. I mean pedestrians jump out of no where. Why so many one way streets and aggressive drivers? There is very limited parking and 95% of it is parallel parking. Curb your wheels on hills in San Francisco or you risk your car rolling away.

I don't think a driving simulation will help. Real driving practice will, but even grown adults tend to avoid driving in large congested cities. It requires more skill and experience to do it well. I would cut your daughter some slack and slowly work up to do real practice in large cities during off-peak hours (i.e. not rush hours).

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While other answers focus on the driving skills side of this problem, I might instead recommend visiting a therapist to treat her fear. Two years of experience should have been enough to establish basic driving skills, but the fear means that driving alone probably won't help.

A skilled therapist will be able to find the underlying reasons behind her fear and treat the problem instead of its symptoms.

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TL;DR: Drive on an empty parking lot with orange traffic cones as obstacles as a possibly cheaper and better alternative to a computer driving simulator. Then drive on real streets, slowly moving from easier to harder driving conditions.

I would recommend an easier, cheaper and more realistic alternative instead of a driving simulator. It helped me and others to learn to drive in a major city with some of the worst drivers in the US. I bought a few (4-8) cheap orange traffic cones (nowadays they are available on Amazon, in dollar stores, etc). I put them up to create a driving course on a parking lot that's empty in the evening or on weekends.

I could simulate many difficult cases that I later actually encountered when driving on the real streets:

  • different types of parking: angle parking, perpendicular parking (forward and in reverse) and parallel parking; tight parking (parallel and perpendicular);

  • quick braking and turns to avoid obstacles;

  • tight turns (U-turn, multi-point turn);

  • driving around obstacles like triple-parked cars on both sides of the street;

  • driving forward or backwards on a narrow street;

  • keeping control of the car on ice and snow; avoiding hydroplaning (after a heavy rain/flooding).

Most importantly, after many hours of such practice I could really feel my car. It was a tool that felt like an extension of myself, similar to a walking stick, a bike, a kayak, or a pair of skis.

I then moved to driving in the following order on actual streets in a big city with significant traffic, starting from easiest to the most difficult:

  • in light traffic, on easy streets;
  • in light traffic, on difficult streets;
  • in heavy traffic, on easy streets;
  • in heavy traffic, on difficult streets;

In the process, I learned most of the advanced skills. For example:

  1. Change lanes across multiple lanes of heavy traffic;
  2. Read the intentions of the drivers around you to react to (and predict) the situations when:
    • drivers cut you off without signalling,
    • drivers pull out in front of you without signalling,
    • drivers quickly slow down or just plain stop on the highway in front of you
    • drivers make a quick left turn into the oncoming traffic in front of your car,
    • drivers run the red light in front of you as you start moving across the intersection,
    • pedestrians text while they walk across the street in front of you,
    • pedestrians run the red light across the street in front of you.

In many of these cases in a big city with a lot of traffic, having advanced car handling skills (braking, accelerating, turning, etc) was very helpful.

SEE ALSO:

Professional resources (not endorsements, but simply illustrations of similar techniques, used by professionals):

  • Example of a cone course from the Outdoor Safety Institute: S-turns, parallel parking, etc.
  • Example of Defensive Driver Training from Survive The Drive: emergency braking, turning exercises and crash avoidance maneuvers, obstacle course.
  • Car-handling skills are not the critical skills you need for big-city driving. You need to be able to do things like change lanes across four lanes of heavy traffic or spot someone making a left turn from the right-hand lane before their car is in front of you, skills you can only get from having other cars moving around you. – Mark Jul 27 at 6:58
  • @Mark: Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I clarified my answer in response. – Timur Shtatland Jul 28 at 3:21

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