Tri-Village News

Simulator drives point home

Police officer warns students about texting, other dangerous distractions in driver's seat

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CHRIS PARKER/THISWEEKNEWS
Grandview Heights High School senior Patrick McHugh operates a distracted-driving simulator as classmates watch Monday morning, April 7, in the school's gym.

Grandview Heights High School students experienced some close calls Monday, April 7, while they were behind the wheel.

One student almost hit a pedestrian who suddenly decided to cross against the light.

Another student was told by a police officer that he was driving as if he was drunk.

Don't worry -- the students weren't actually on the road.

They were testing their driving skills on the Ohio Department of Transportation's distracted-driver simulator.

Grandview police officer Scott Hiles brought the machine to the high school gym April 7; students could take a spin on the simulator during study hall, lunch period or after school.

The simulator puts participants into all kinds of distracted-driving scenarios, from using a cellphone to call or text, to having a ball roll suddenly into the street or being given directions by a virtual passenger -- who opted not to wear a safety belt because it was uncomfortable.

The passenger -- a friend who asks the driver to give her a lift -- also asks the participant to call her brother on the cellphone. Her voice gives out the number and when the signal is busy, she asks the driver to send him a text message.

"We want to send the message to students that they need to pay attention while they are driving," Hiles said. "It takes just a few seconds of distraction to cause a serious and possibly fatal accident."

Distracted driving does not just mean using a cellphone to call or text, he said.

"It can be someone you know waving to you from the sidewalk, eating, using an iPod, putting on makeup or just talking to someone sitting in the back seat," Hiles said.

Many teen drivers do not realize it is illegal for drivers younger than 18 to use any mobile communications device while driving in Ohio, he said.

"It's not just texting that's banned for them," Hiles said.

Senior Patrick McHugh is one of the students who tried out the simulator.

When his drive was finished, Hiles told him he would have pulled him over within the first minute or so because he was weaving.

"I would have thought you were drunk," Hiles said.

McHugh said driving on the simulator was not as easy as he thought it would be.

"I try not to use a phone when I'm driving (for real)," he said, adding he was surprised at how the simulator showed the impact even simple distractions can have on driving.

"We've had some programs before at the high school about the dangers of distracted driving," McHugh said. "Most people don't text while they're driving, but you still see some people who do. It's not a good idea."

This month is the first-ever Distracted Driver Month in Ohio, Hiles said.

"Distracted driving has become a much more common problem, especially now that people can text using their phones," he said.

While fatalities from accidents caused by distracted driving have been falling, the number of injuries has increased, Hiles said.

"On average, texting takes your eye off the road for about five seconds," he said. "That's more than enough time for something bad to happen."

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