“This is the product of a partnership between Nationwide Insurance, the Ohio Highway Patrol and ODOT,” said ODOT Public Information Officer Justin Chesnic. “The distracted driver simulator will give students the chance to get behind the wheel of a simulated driving device and be challenged to drive while distracted by sending text messages or while making phone calls. Then when the motorist has the inevitable crash, the simulator displays a video showing a court appearance or a trip to the hospital depending on the severity of the crash.”
The unit is a computer-operated simulator with three wide screens that project the path a vehicle is traveling. It has country roads, city streets and an array of traffic lights and stop signs. It also has surprises like deer running in front of the vehicle. On the table in front of the screen is a steering wheel and on the floor are normal vehicle pedals.
The student gets to choose between drinking and driving or texting while driving. In the drinking simulation, the unit's steering wheel and gas pedals have a delayed response to simulate how a vehicle would feel when the driver had too much to drink. In every simulation, the student would end up crashing, then the second half of the program would begin.
“If you get into an accident, the program will inform you how much the damages are and what kind of fines can be expected,” Chesnic said. “If the accident is serious, a short movie will play that shows everything from an emergency room to a courtroom where the judge will sentence the driver for being under the influence.”
The drunk side of the simulator was difficult for the high school students to control. Boardman senior Stephanie Romeo, who is also a member of Students Against Destructive Decisions, took a go at it and when she was done, she was amazed.
“It was hard,” she said. “I couldn’t control the vehicle. It was scary.”
On the texting side, Boardman junior Daisy Robinson gave it a try.
“I didn’t even get the last two numbers typed in when I crashed,” Robinson said.
It was definitely distracting. It sends a clear message: don’t text and drive if you want to stay alive.
The simulator got a workout on Thursday and Friday as a different Boardman student took his or her turn every three to five minutes. The students were all in the health classes of Patricia Reitmann and Karen Mincher, who serves as SADD coordinator and helped bring the simulator in.
“If all our classes are done and there is a gap in between, we will go to the study hall and any student with a license or permit can give it a try,” Reitmann said.
Chesnic said the unit has been traveling throughout the state. Each ODOT district gets a chance to have it for schools in that district. Chesnic said when District 4 got it, Boardman was one that fit the bill to focus on the larger school districts.
“We will be getting it again in March and are looking at Austintown Fitch,” he said.
At Boardman, the program was supplemented with a pledge and a thumb band that students wore to say they would not text and drive. The simulator backed it up by showing that an accident is coming for those who don’t accept the lesson.
“So many students think it won’t happen to them,” Reitmann said.
She said at least with the simulator, the crash is just on screen. If they get the message, then the crash won’t be on life’s real stage.
Boardman High School Students Against Destructive Decisions member Stephanie Romeo drove drunk on Nov. 17. She wasn’t actually drinking, but was taking a turn at Distracted Driver Simulator that ODOT and the Ohio Highway Patrol brought to Boardman for two days to bring awareness over drinking and texting while driving.