With Oculus Rift, Toyota steers parents to teach better driving behavior

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The carmaker is using virtual reality to show parents the realities of driving while distracted

NEW YORK — Toyota is trying something new to get parents and teens to be safe drivers together: Oculus Rift virtual-reality technology in a driving simulator.

Staged behind the wheel of a real Toyota vehicle, the technology provides users with a realistic virtual experience showing how common distractions affect their ability to remain safe on the road. Parents and teens will be able to experience the simulator at auto shows across the United States.

"This will provide a strong demonstration for people about the dangers that are presented when you drive distracted, and it is really fun and engaging," said Marjorie Schussel, Toyota’s corporate marketing director.

The simulator is the newest element of Toyota’s TeenDrive365 campaign, which launched last November. The initiative is mainly targeting the parents of teen drivers, but the company also provides resources for teenagers that encourage them to be safer behind the wheel, Schussel said.

Other new campaign elements include an online commercial called Parents Who Drive Bad Anonymous, which takes a humorous look at parents’ vices behind the wheel as they commit to being safer drivers for their teens. The Masters of the Wheel video series on the campaign’s website features professional racing legends discussing the influential role parents play in teen-driver safety.

The company has also started an online pledge for parents to promise to set the best example for teens, and it launched animated GIFs and picture-based riddles that are sharable on social media.

Toyota, in partnership with Discovery Education, has also launched the 2014-15 TeenDrive365 Video Challenge, inviting youths across the country to create short videos to inspire their friends to drive safely and avoid distractions. Entries are due by March 16, 2015, and prizes include a $15,000 scholarship.

TeenDrive365 will continue to offer existing teen-driving tools, such as a calculator that teaches about the financial implications of driving and an agreement that helps teens and parents set expectations for safe behavior. It is also distributing an online game that demonstrates the dangers of multitasking while driving.

To raise awareness and send visitors to its website, the company is promoting the campaign through targeted media across traditional and online channels, such as national radio, online video, displays, mobile, and paid social advertising. Toyota is also getting the word out on Facebook and Twitter.

Since its launch last year, more than 1 million people have visited the website, more than 22,000 have taken Toyota’s safe-driving pledge, and more than 10,000 have interacted with TeenDrive365 in person at events.

Safety research compiled by Toyota and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, which concluded in 2012 that parents are the number one influence on how teenagers drive, inspired the campaign.

"We are focused on supporting parents and inspiring them to be better role models for their teens behind the wheel," explained Schussel. "Parents are the number one influence on the way their teens will drive and this is a real wakeup call for parents; we really want to inspire and empower parents to be the drivers they want their teens to be."

Finsbury is working with Toyota on PR for the campaign. Budget information was not disclosed.

In September, Toyota celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its child car seat safety-awareness campaign, Buckle Up for Life.

This article first appeared on prweek.com.

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