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Happy Finish And Ford Scientifically Prove VR Is A Successful Tool For Empathy

Production studio Happy Finish have teamed up with Ford Motor Company and the WPP agency team to create a virtual reality (VR) experience to encourage drivers and cyclists to “Share The Road” safely. Titled ‘WheelSwap’, the experience is part of Ford’s large ‘Share The Road’ campaign which aims to promote driver and cyclist harmony across Europe to make urban areas safer, reduce congestion and ultimately protect road users. The VR experience developer by Happy Finish has been a phenomenal success with 91% of users stating they intended to change their behavior on the road after using the title.

Ford Share The Road

The ‘WheelSwap’ experience allows motorists to see from a cyclist’s point of view how scary it can be when drivers overtake to closely, swerve without indicating and open car doors without checking for bikes. There is also an alternative version of the experience which allows cyclists to experience what it is like for drivers when they jump red lights, cycle down one-way streets the wrong way and swerve unexpectedly. Both of these are full 360-degree films and shown to more than 1,200 people across five European countries with impressive results.

During this initial research stage conducted by Ford, 70% of those who used ‘WheelSwap’ displayed greater empathy to their driving and cycling counterparts after watching the VR experience compared to those who had not. Two weeks after experiencing the films, 60% of participating road users had already changed their behavior on their day-today travels. Those who said they did not change their behavior were noted as claiming they were already being as cautious on the roads as they could, which points towards more careless behaviors being improved thanks to the campaign.

Happy Finish

The goal of the research initiative was to test whether activating empathy via VR could lead road users to better behavior on the roads, allowing for drivers and cyclists to coexist with a better understanding of eachother. The results show that the research was an overwhelming success. “There is no more effective means of appreciating someone else’s point of view than stepping into their shoes, or in this case, on to their pedals. Empathy is an immensely powerful emotion”, said behavioral scientist Dan Berry, who helped devise the experiment. 

Ford now plan to integrate the ‘WheelSwap’ VR experience into its driver training program for 17 to 24 year olds – Ford Driving Skills for Life – which gives young road users free, hands-on classes that cover a range of topics to help improve their driving ability.

Daniel Cheetham, Happy Finish Global CEO stated: ‘Being early practitioners in the creation of highly immersive VR experiences, we anecdotally already knew the power of such a level of immersion and the potential that has to prompt behavioural change. It’s genuinely exciting to now have hard scientific evidence to that effect. Working with the team at Ford and WPP over the past couple of years has been great, we are particularly proud of our work together that increases road user’s attention to safety. If our work helps to save just one life on the road, then our mission is accomplished.”

As Ford continue to look for more ways to use VR to expand their campaigns, VRFocus will be sure to bring you all the latest from them and Happy Finish in the future. Both videos from the ‘WheelSwap’ campaign are available to watch online and you can see ‘Life from a Driver’s Perspective’ below.