Simulator teaches dangers of distracted driving at New Milford High School
Luckily for Nick, the accident was just a simulation, part of a program called Distractology, which was available this week at New Milford High School to better educate students on the dangers of distracted driving. The program is developed and funded by the Arbella Insurance Foundation and hosted this week by Bearingstar Insurance.
“That’s exactly what would happen in the real world,” Arbella tour manager Nick Prpich-Romani told Scarcella. “You were looking down when the guy was tapping his brakes. It happens fast, too.”
Students like Nick spend 45 minutes using the simulators to experience six different scenarios, which teach them to be aware of other drivers, pedestrians in crosswalks and the dangers of using their phones or changing their music while driving.
The two simulators are housed in a trailer that spends about a week each at high schools in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The student sits in a driver’s seat with pedals and a steering wheel. Three screens offer a simulated view of the roads, including the images from side and rearview mirrors.
Distractology is able to accommodate 100 students during a typical week. Arbella is offering 10 $500 scholarships to students who complete the training in the mobile classroom and follow up online as a way of encouraging as many as possible to sign up.
“Arbella would really like to inform the community on how bad distracted driving is,” Prpich-Romani said. “They can see it in a realistic setting using the simulations.”
In between sessions in the simulators, Prpich-Romani discusses what caused any accidents and shares tips on how to avoid them. The screens show an aerial view of what happened following the simulation and shares statistics, such as that a car can travel the length of a football field in the time it takes to check a phone.
Scarcella, who has had his license for several months, said he’s heard about the dangers of texting and driving, but the simulation made it a reality.
“I didn’t realize what I was doing was so life-threatening,” he said.
Scarcella said he uses his phone only to change songs while driving, but said this experience will cause him to change some of his driving habits.
“I suggest everyone, before they get their license, take a test like this,” Scarcella said.
The simulator program was introduced in 2009 and is based on research funded by Arbella Insurance Foundation and conducted by University of Massachusetts, Amherst. It has been used by more than 15,000 drivers who have a learner’s permit or who have had their licenses less than three years, and is offered free at high schools and sometimes at driving schools.
Chris Gray, an insurance consultant for Bearingstar, lives in town with his wife, a teacher.
“We thought it was a great opportunity to give back to the community and give the students and teachers a chance to see the dangers of distracted driving,” Gray said.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates nine people are killed every hour and more than 1,000 people are injured in crashes reported to involve a distracted driver.
A study published last summer by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that drivers 16 or 17 years old are almost four times more likely than adults to be involved in a crash and 2.6 times more likely than adults to be involved in a deadly crash. Distraction is believed to play a role in nearly 60 percent of teen crashes, four times as many as official estimates, based on police reports.
“The hope is simply to bring more attention and awareness to the dangers that come along with distracted driving,” Gray said.