Northwest News

Statehouse hosts distracted driving simulator

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Ohio Department of Transportation officials would like to help motorists have an accident.

The mishap would be a safe one that would teach them some lessons about driving while talking on a cellphone or sending text messages.

The ODOT Distracted Driver Tour will visit the Ohio Statehouse from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 18-25, in the Map Room.

Throughout the state, the department has four simulators deployed to give people a computer-generated experience in driving while texting and with other activities that take a person's eyes and attention off the road.

"Most people who use the simulator wreck fairly quickly and the most common response is, 'I didn't realize how hard it was,' " said Michelle May, manager of highway safety programs for ODOT.

"Typically, people wreck right away," May said.

"Some people manage to make it all the way through the course. Almost everyone universally says it's made them think twice about texting while driving."

The simulators were created in 2011 with funding assistance from Nationwide Insurance, May said.

"For the past couple of years, we've been concerned about the prevalence of texting and driving and the effect it might have on accidents or crashes in Ohio," she said.

"We use it primarily as a tool for educating high school students," May said.

"Certainly adults aren't immune to texting and driving and talking on cellphones.

"It's really aimed at the public at large, although we're particularly interested in catching young drivers," May said.

"The Distracted Driver Simulator features a computer-generated simulation of texting while driving," according to a fact sheet on the ODOT website.

"The setup includes a steering wheel, turn indicators, gas and brake pedals. After 'buckling up,' the driver takes the wheel and tries to drive with distractions.

"The participant receives a phone call, sends a text message and listens to passenger conversations while driving. It doesn't take long before the driver makes an error and is involved in a crash that results in simulated interactions with police, medical staff and a judge."

Distracted driving is " ... anything that takes your attention away from the road," according to the fact sheet.

"Any time you're fumbling with the phone, whether texting or talking, you're taking your mind and, to some extent, your eyes off the road," May said.

Texting, however, is the worst distraction, the fact sheet states.

Gov. John Kasich signed a law June 1 making it illegal to text while driving. The law went into effect in August.

Texting, talking on a cellphone, sending an email and even looking up directions on a global positioning system while driving are a primary offense for those younger than 18 years old, meaning it is sufficient cause to be pulled over by a law enforcement official.

Texting while driving is a secondary offense for motorists 18 and older, meaning another traffic violation is necessary for being stopped by a law enforcement official.

Use of the simulators is free. ODOT officials take them to high schools and put them into use during summer and fall county fairs.

"We try to get them out as often as possible," May said.

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