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Simulator teaches teens about distracted driving

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Think you can drive “safely” while texting or experiencing other distractions?

A simulator at Jefferson County Public Health Service may prove to you otherwise.

“It’ll go maybe five minutes if you can drive the whole way through it,” said Faith E. Lustik, health planner.

Most participants don’t make it that far. The simulator, paid for with a $14,849 grant from State Farm, takes “drivers” on a short ride through mostly quiet streets, as they must look out for deer, pedestrians and other vehicles. The participant is directed when and what to text, using either the touch-screen computer or his or her own cellphone.

Once the person “crashes” the car, a first-person view appears on the screen of what may actually happen if involved in a bad motor vehicle accident. Facts and statistics about distracted driving, and related costs from accidents or fines, also appear.

Ms. Lustik said Jefferson County Public Health Service in the past used traditional education methods of in-person verbal lessons. She said many students are hands-on learners and have benefited from the “Virtual Driver” software program. The entire system comes equipped with that software, the touch-screen computer, a steering wheel and pedals.

“We’ve had the best luck with kids that don’t have their license yet,” she said. “We work usually with eighth- through 12th-graders.”

They’re often scared, she said, once they experience the program and soak up information about consequences of distracted driving.

The program isn’t just for youths; their parents may try it out, too, if Public Health has the simulator at a community event.

“A lot of teens will say, ‘You need to talk to my mom or dad about that,’” Ms. Lustik said.

She suggested alternatives to texting behind the wheel, such as designating a passenger in the car to text for the driver, or simply choosing not to text at all or turning off the phone.

If someone is texting and driving, or distracted in another way, she said, passengers should speak up. “It’s your life,” she said. “You’ll get hurt. Accidents happen.”

“Virtual Driver” also has other programs, including a simulation of drunken driving.

The simulator will be available during the agency’s open house event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 24 at the office, 531 Meade St.

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