Driving simulation teaches students lessons in distractions

May 29, 2018

In a country where 400,000 people are injured annually from distracted driving, high school students are being taught ways to improve their defensive driving skills.

On Tuesday, Dartmouth High School began a four-day lesson by Distractology and Tomlinson and O’Neil Insurance Agency to show 80 student drivers how even the smallest lapse in focus can cause an accident. Distractology is a simulated driving course taught by Quincy-based Arbella Insurance Company with the goal of explaining the science behind driving.

After years of educating people on the consequences of drinking while driving, Arbella, with research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, created a simulation to depict how actions like texting or eating while behind the wheel can impair a driver’s judgement.

The program coincided with senior week at the school, which leads up to prom night on Thursday. It was the reason Principal Ross Thibault chose to do the event after talking to insurance agency officials back in November 2016.

“Unfortunately communities across Massachusetts, across the country, experience tragic loss during this week,” Thibault said.

Thibault noted two accidents, one on May 19 where four Stoughton High students died, and a crash in which a Dufree High student died on prom night in 2016, as examples of why reaching students now is increasingly important.

More than 5,000 people are killed each year due to distracted driving, and 93 percent of all rear-end crashes are caused by it, according to Distractology’s website.

Participants endured six varied simulations, each one testing their reactions to events taking place on the road. Tests included responding to a text and changing the song on the radio, while others taught the drivers about watching for warning signs. Every time a student crashed, Nick Romani Prpich from Distractology would talk to them about what they should do differently next time.

Cassidy Vaccari got into several accidents during the exercise, but walked away with more of a sense of self-awareness when behind the wheel.

“It was a little nerve-wracking kind of,” Vaccari said. “It’s eye-opening to see how easy it is to get distracted and miss big hazards and stuff like that.”

Even though Ethan Goulart had no problem navigating some of the situations it made him realize taking cautionary measures was necessary.

“You need to assume people aren’t going to follow the rules and you need to be extra safe when you’re driving,” Goulart said.

Thibault, who also took the test, said he wants to see Distractology come back again next year.