Junior and senior students at Owensboro Catholic High School received a distracted driving lesson from the PEERS foundation, a nonprofit foundation in Grand Rapids, Mich., helping empower youth to make better decisions.
Using Augmented Reality Distracted Driver Education (A.R.D.D.E.S), PEERS team educators explained that distracted driving is the number one cause of fatalities in ages 16 to 29 causing 1.6 million accidents annually.
Students listened to the facts about distracted driving and suggested ways they could be distracted while driving as it is not always by a cell phone. Students were then offered a chance to drive and sign a pledge to not drive while distracted.
One of the presenters, Josh Jackson, told the students that it takes five seconds to check a cell phone and in that time, a driver can travel the distance of a football field.
“What could happen in the length of a football field?” he asked the students.
Students were then asked to watch a video, which they were warned was not easy to watch. But Jackson asked them to put themselves in the shoes of the speaker. Several students became emotional while learning of the fatal accident the speaker had been in.
“The reality is this is just a demonstration,” Jackson said after the video ended. “It is a safe environment to show how quickly an accident can happen. You can hit a tree or even a person, but that’s OK — you get to get out of the car because it is a simulator.”
Some drivers were asked to hold a phone, some had a friend or an instructor in the back seat talking to them as they maneuvered the real vehicle in a simulated driving experience and some had both happening simultaneously. The simulator required the drivers to make decisions with the distractions.
Junior Sailor Stich had the opportunity to drive in the simulator while holding her phone in her hand and had a friend in the backseat who kept talking to her.
“I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the [virtual] road,” she said. “I learned how long it actually takes when you look down at your phone.”
Local State Farm agent Seth Lawson said his agency sees distracted driving accident reports on a weekly basis and this program attempts to be “on the front end of it.”
He said that when he is insuring a teen driver, he speaks to the teen and parents.
“I bring young drivers in,” he said. “Kids don’t always listen to their parents, but when someone who lives it and breathes it speaks, they might listen.”
He said another issue with teen driving is that from a young age, they have had the opportunity to be engaged in technology while riding in cars that they don’t know the rules of the road and didn’t watch while they were growing up.
PEERS team member Orlando Estrada said that the program is trying to curb the high number of distracted drivers and also making teens aware of others not paying attention.
“Simple things like reaching for a water bottle, not just a cell phone,” Estrada said of distractions that can happen to drivers in oncoming traffic that cause them to take their eyes off the road.
The simulator and team visited three Kentucky schools this week as part of their nationwide program.