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Simulators give students crash course in staying focused behind the wheel
The Patriot Ledger - 12/14/2018
Dec. 14--PLYMOUTH -- Sixteen-year-old Emma was just following instructions when she tried to text a friend while driving down a winding road. She nearly drove off a cliff.
Minutes later, while changing songs on her phone, she crashed into the back of a sedan.
Luckily, both crashes were painless. They happened on a simulator that Arbella Insurance brought to Plymouth South High School last week to teach students the dangers of distracted driving.
It was a powerful lesson and came with some nice rewards.
Over the course of the week, 90 students made use of the trailer on the edge of campus where Nick Prpich of Arbella offered courses in Distractology.
Simulators at each end of the trailer allow students to get schooled in how to avoid and ignore distractions and see first-hand how real world distractions can cause real world accidents.
Arbella started the Distractology program in 2009 in an effort to curb distracted driving among young drivers before it becomes ingrained behavior.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that nine people are killed every hour and more than 1,000 are injured as a result of distracted drivers. Recent research shows that drivers talking on a cell phone are up to four times as likely to crash while those who text are up to eight times as likely to be involved in an accident.
The Journal of Adolescent Health reports that 38 percent of teens across the country text while driving. In Massachusetts, 40 percent of teens text while driving.
T.A. Holland Insurance Agency teamed with Arbella to offer the program locally. It is Arbella's second visit to the school in the last three years.
Theresa Dorr, a health teacher at Plymouth South and the advisor to the school's Students Against Destructive Decisions program, coordinated both visits. She pulled junior and seniors from directed study and health and physical education classes to participate.
Students had to have a valid driver's license or a driver's permit. Those who participated received a $15 gasoline voucher. Those who went on to complete an online component were entered into a drawing for a $500 scholarship and were eligible for safe driver discounts on their insurance.
The 45-minutes sessions start with a quick lesson in how the simulator works and a simple cruise through residential neighborhoods and crowded highways.
The driving scenarios become progressively more complicated, with pedestrians crossing the street unexpectedly and other vehicles making unexpected turns. Prpich amps it up by having the students plug in their cell phones and try to use them to make calls or change the music while driving.
The result is usually screeching brakes and a cracked windshield.
Over the last nine years more than 16,000 students from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island have taken the Distractology course. A study conducted by Arbella from 2010 to 2014 showed that student drivers who completed the Distractology program were 19 percent less likely to have an accident and 25 percent less likely to receive traffic violations.
Emma, who has a driver's permit, but has not yet gotten her license, found the program helpful. "It really reinforced the idea to not be a distracted driver," she said. "You just realize how many risks there are with every turn and every sign."
Madison, another 16-year-old Plymouth South student, said it made her realize how quickly a crash can happen. "It was really eye opening," she said, after the windshield on her simulator exploded with cracks. She was following Prpich's instructions to switch tunes when she plowed into the back of a car on the virtual highway.
Reach Rich Harbert at firstname.lastname@example.org
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