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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Attica High Schoolers:

Driving distracted: Computer simulators illustrate dangers

Attica Freshman Marley Weber, 14, tries to text
and drive at the same time during a driving simu-
lation Tuesday at Attica High School. Almost every
student participating wound up in a collision.
If Jimmy Helmicki had actually been driving Tuesday morning, it would have been wildly dangerous.

Seated at a virtual reality simulator designed to replicate impaired driving, the 14-year-old freshman accelerated to about 51 mph on a city street before slamming into the rear of a car stopped at a red light.

He immediately tried again, but his vehicle careened over a lawn at 48 mph before striking a house. He and his classmates laughed at his chaotic results — almost none of the participants would have escaped jail time — but the experience also drove home a lesson for the Attica high schoolers. “It’s to give the kids a little bit of an insight of the consequences of drugged and drunk driving, as well as distracted driving,” said Wyoming County Sheriff’s Deputy Sam West, who serves as the district’s School Resource Officer. 

“I think a lot of the kids are kind of sheltered from the things that happen in the real world. Even in this case, sometimes they come in and treat it as a game, but the video really hit home with a lot of them.” 

The activity was part of the national Save A Life Tour that seeks to demonstrate the potentially deadly consequences of poor decisions behind the wheel. Attica high schoolers watched a video detailing a tragic real-life accident and aftermath. 

Instructor Chris Rich of Matrix Entertainment talked to the teens about the dangers involved and the risks they’d be experiencing if the simulators were real-life. The distracted driving simulator forces students to text and drive simultaneously, while the impaired driving simulator mimics delayed reaction times, the vehicle’s inertia, and over-corrections. 

Most participants on Tuesday disobeyed red lights, swerved over double-solid lines, blew through speed limits and crashed within 60 seconds. A few students inched along at about 13 mph, which itself can bring traffic stops and fines for impeding traffic. It’s not exactly like driving a car but it shows the dangers, Rich said. 

Many students never realized the sheer number of infractions they were committing before they ultimately crashed. Rich had to point the mistakes out. 

“They’re trying to control those things, go down the street, and do it effectively, but how is it impeding their ability to do so?” he said. Freshman Marley Weber, 14, tried the distracted driving simulator. With her attention shifting between the cellphone and traffic, she drove maybe a quarter mile before colliding at an intersection. 

“It was kind of hard,” she said. “It was the distraction, I guess. I can’t pay attention to the road and the cellphone at the same time, so I was like, ‘Uuuhhhhh ...’” She uses her phone pretty often, but she also knows when to put it down — common sense and the simulation was a fun experience. 

What were her thoughts while driving on the simulator? “Panic,” she said. In real life, the consequences can be horrific for anybody, whether teens or adults. 

Rich said the program tries to get people to do better assessments of themselves, be more responsible, and understand the complexities and risks. Teens are more prone to peer pressure and their brains aren’t fully developed, so judgment isn’t really there yet. 

“You hear the phone go off and it’s just an everyday thing,” Rich said. “People are so distracted sometimes in a vehicle. Our video talks about an older gentleman who was in a dump truck who was speeding in a construction zone ... I think he was eating and driving, or messing with the GPS and killed a little boy.” 

It’s an important reminder as summer approaches. “We like to target it just before the prom,” West said. “Just another reinforcement piece and something to be aware of before they all go out and pile into a car together. Maybe this will stay in their head until then.”

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