Simulator gives students hands-on experience in driving distracted

Oct 11, 2019

Dartmouth High students are learning about the dangers of distracted driving by getting behind the wheel virtually and seeing firsthand what happens when they take their eyes off the road. 

From October 7 to 11, Distractology's mobile classroom was brought to Dartmouth High. The classroom is outfitted with two driving simulators designed to run students through common challenging driving scenarios, and what happens when distractions are thrown into the mix. 

During seniors Max Fera and Joshua Panaggio’s session, they were asked to take out their phones and text a friend while driving. Both failed to notice a car in front of them braking suddenly, resulting in a rear-end crash. 

Even fiddling with the radio can have a disastrous outcome, as another simulation showed when both failed to notice a car cutting them off on the highway because they were engrossed in changing the dial. 

“I didn’t know what to expect, but it helped make me aware of unexpected things on the road,” Fera said, adding he’ll definitely be thinking twice about texting or using his phone while driving. 

The simulation also showed the importance of always paying attention and looking out for the unexpected. When Fera and Panaggio approached a four-lane intersection with their view obstructed by a long line of cars and trucks waiting to turn left, both tried to make left turns themselves, but were broadsided by a speeding car heading straight in the opposite lane. 

“Left turns across traffic are the most common and damaging crashes we see,” said Christopher O'Neil, vice president of Tomlinson & O'Neil Insurance, as a video played on the screens detailing safety tips and how taking one’s eyes off the road for even a moment while navigating a complex intersection can cause a crash. 

“There are no more minor accidents anymore,” O’Neil said. “Even an average fender bender we see on average $2,000 in damage” due to electronics and complex bumper designs, O’Neil said. 

The Distractology program was created by the Arbella Insurance Foundation. Tomlinson and O'Neil Insurance, based in New Bedford, sponsored the mobile classroom’s trip to Dartmouth High and several surrounding high schools as part of the Drive Smart Southcoast public awareness campaign. 

The goal is to change people’s minds and behavior while behind the wheel. According to the CDC, distracted driving kills nine people every hour. Although between 96 and 97 percent of drivers polled by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety realize reading and typing text messages is dangerous, 32 to 41 percent of drivers still admitted to texting while driving.

“It’s going to get kids talking about this issue so maybe the next time they’re driving they’ll say hey, put the phone down,” O’Neil said.