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Simulation educates campus

Sarah Swiderski | Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On Tuesday afternoon, Saint Mary’s students had the chance to participate in a simulation that showed what it is like to get behind the wheel drunk or while texting.

The Student Government Association (SGA) and Women’s Health Center co-sponsored “Arrive Alive” to promote safe driving. The event brought in UNITE, a group that promotes safe driving by encouraging students to drive sober and put the phone down.

Student body president Maureen Parsons participated in the simulation and said she was surprised at how hands-on it was.

“I wasn’t expecting to have to use the steering, gas, and brakes. I was only expecting the goggles,” she said.

The simulation included a Mazda 6 SUV with front wheels placed on optic sensors that feed data into a computer, according to UNITE representative Jan Griffith.

The steering wheel and pedals featured sensors as well “basically turning the car into a controller,” Griffith said.

The participants wore the goggles when driving the car and they altered the driver’s vision as they navigated the computerized roads.

In addition to the simulation itself, participants were asked to take a survey before and after concerning their distracted driving habits. Griffith said that students are drawn to the simulation because it helps educate them and increase awareness of distracted driving behaviors.

“Because [the simulation] is set up like a video game it gets people to participate and educated…the results of the survey show that as well,” he said.

Josh Hull, a UNITE representative also at the simulation, added that participants are inclined to stop texting and driving after taking part in the testing.

“You find a majority of people [who participate], 83 percent said it would cause them to be less likely to drive distracted,” Hull said.

Meghan Casey, student body vice president, said the simulation was harder than it looked.

“I was really terrible. [The simulation] was really difficult,” Casey said. “I didn’t even get far enough to realize how much it was affecting me.”

Casey, along with the other participants, received a mock citation upon completing the demonstration that listed the driving infractions she committed during the experiment.

When texting while driving during the simulation, Casey was cited for speeding, swerving, failing to stop and collision. She fared even worse in the mock drunk driving segment where she swerved, failed to stop, and committed vehicular manslaughter by hitting two pedestrians.

“Receiving the citations and infractions that occurred during the simulation showed that [driving] under influence or being a distracted driver can cause a lot of destruction on the road,” Casey said.

Parsons said that she thought the experience of the simulation was eye-opening.

“The texting and driving [experience] was really difficult. It’s interesting. The car is really good at simulating situations you could potentially be in,” she said.

The computer program used to run the simulation takes into account delayed reaction time. Even if a participant thinks they are braking quickly enough the computer slows down the reaction time, imitating drunk driving.

The simulation also allowed students to try texting while driving.

Junior Jarusha Lang said that before the simulation she would text at stoplights but now realizes that even texting then is dangerous.

“I will never pick up the phone [now],” she said.

“The average text takes 4.6 seconds to read and reply,” Hull said. “You go a whole football field before you look up.”

Hull also said that UNITE is currently developing an app for smart phones that will lock the phone when the person is driving over 15 miles per hour. He said that the app is able to do this by using GPS. He said that the app will be free at events but will also be available for purchase at a low cost.

Until the app comes out, UNITE will pass out key chains with participants’ pictures on the back to remind them to drive safely.

For Parsons, however, that won’t be a problem.

“I will not be texting and driving or drinking and driving any time soon,” she said.