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Students go 'under the influence' of distracted driving through simulator

Monday, October 8, 2012

Storn Olson (right), Arrive Alive Tour, discusses mock drunk driving "charges" with a BVU student following a driving simulation on Wednesday. The Arrive Alive Tour travels around the country, educating high school and college students on the dangers of driving while distracted or under the influence of alcohol. /Photo by Ashley Miller
After being issued "citations" for driving too slowly, swerving, driving on the wrong side of the road, causing head-on collisions and committing negligent vehicular homicide, Buena Vista University students who tried Arrive Alive Tour's distracted driving simulator are now thinking twice about using their cell phones while driving.

Using a Camaro loaned by Fitzpatrick Auto, participating students donned goggles that displayed a roadway complete with pedestrians, vehicles and buildings. A second screen near the vehicle displayed the driver's simulation for onlookers.

The Camaro's battery was disconnected, but its steering wheel, brakes and gas pedal were outfitted with sensors, allowing as close to a real-life driving experience as possible during the simulation.

Those who tried the texting simulation were given a real phone, and asked to type in "I love Storm Lake" while attempting to control the vehicle, while others who drove under the influence of virtual alcohol experienced a slight delay on their controls to imitate drunk driving.

Student who volunteered for the simulation had trouble maintaining speed and staying in their lane while "driving" distracted or under the influence. About 70 had gone through the simulation by mid-day Wednesday.

"We see a lot of weaving and swerving," said Storn Olson, Arrive Alive Tour. "Students often are hitting buildings and running over pedestrians."

Studies have indicated sending or receiving a text draws a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. If traveling at 55 miles per hour, 4.6 seconds equates driving the entire length of a football field, blind.

Following the driving simulation, Olson discussed mock charges, costs and impacts with participants, including court costs, fines, lawyer fees, more expensive car insurance, community service and incarceration.

Most recent national statistics compiled by the Department of Transportation indicate, in 2010, distracted driving killed 3,092 people and caused 416,000 additional injuries. Today, the National Safety Council estimates a distracted driving crash occurs every 24 seconds.

The majority who tried the texting simulation reluctantly admitted to texting while driving, although it has been prohibited by state law for the past two years.

Following her try of the texting simulator, freshman Danielle Eden's "charges" included vehicular homicide, swerving and driving on the wrong side of the road.

"I am never going to do that," she said. "Texting, driving and I don't mix."

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