Students pay attention to lessons about distracted driving

By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

Bristol Central High School hosted a distracted driving simulation on Friday, September 15.

The simulation was put on by the P.E.E.R.S Foundation [Professionals Encouraging Educational Reforms Statewide], in partnership with State Farm and General Motors. Leading the demonstration was Mike Medendorp, who has been working with P.E.E.R.S for two years.

“We go around the country and we teach kids about the dangers of distracted driving, and how they can prevent it,” said Medendorp.

Medendorp explained that P.E.E.R.S partnered with State Farm a number of years ago, and that they are funding the east coast tour. And, through their partnership with General Motors, P.E.E.R.S was able to develop the simulator.

“It’s augmented reality… It does positively affect the kids – it’s getting the message out there and it is affecting how kids feel about distracted driving, and we have hard data to back that up,” said Medendorp. “The purpose is to give them a safe environment in which they can see what it’s like to be a distracted driver and to see just how easy it is that they can crash.”

The simulator is a stationary, real car. The gas, brake, and steering are connected to an augmented reality headset, which allows students to attempt driving distractedly while in a controlled environment.

“I think it’s important because a lot of times, people don’t really take the distraction seriously. If they’ve done it once, they’ve done it a couple of times, they figure that they’re safe enough where they’re not going to get distracted by texting or anything like that, so, this kind of shows them how quickly a distraction can happen and what the consequences can be,” said Joe Plante, a State Farm insurance agent.

Tyler D’Agostino, a freshman at Central, said he didn’t find driving with others in the car distracting, but he did have trouble with the challenge Medendorp asked them to try – to take a selfie while they drove.

“I crashed on the last part, which was the selfie part,” said D’Agostino. “It wasn’t really that distracting for me before the selfie part, but once the selfie part came, I had a hard left turn and on that left turn I was too focused on the selfie so I didn’t make the left turn.”

Athletic trainer and health teacher, Christopher Carrier, said demonstrations such as this one are “incredibly important.”

“We have freshmen, and though they’re not driving yet, we’re putting it in their minds at a young age that distracted driving is dangerous, and we use this as an opportunity for advocacy so our students… can also tell their parents not to drive distracted… sometimes having that passenger who is a constant reminder to be safe goes a long way, and we think that if we can save one life, whether it be a parent or a student, it’s worth it,” said Carrier. “We want them to see, literally, with quantitative analysis, that there is a significant difference between driving safely and driving while distracted. A lot of times we can put it into words but, until they feel it and experience it for themselves, it kind of goes by the wayside. So, we want to make sure that they have a tangible experience that they’ll remember as they go into their driving years.”

Donovan Clingan takes a selfie while testing out the distracted driving simulator at Bristol Central High School last Friday