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Distracted driver simulation gives Madawaska students taste of what can happen

MADAWASKA, Maine — Madawaska High School students participated in a distracted driver simulation on May 8 to teach them the dangers of driving while being distracted by a number of things including texting.

Lt. Jamie Pelletier watches Logan Cyr respond to a text while trying to stay in his lane during a distracted driver simulation on May 8 at Madawaska High School. (Morgan Mitchell | SJVT/FhF)

Members of the Madawaska Police Department and Atlantic Partners EMS Inc. came together to host the simulation in the high school gym. The setup consisted of a steering wheel, foot pedals, a touch screen monitor, and the students’ own cell phones.

The students start the simulation by picking up a virtual friend to drive to work. After they begin driving the car, the friend asks the student to call their boss and dial a 10 digit number. As soon as the student dials it, the friend then says to text instead.

The students send a text to an automated text service hosted by the program, and can interact with the boss who texts back asking a number of sequential questions. As the students drive, the program records the mistakes they make. Some swerved, some ran stop signs, others speeded, and a few were involved in fender benders or even hit virtual cats and dogs.

If students were involved in an accident, the program turned itself off. Otherwise, some participants racked up multiple traffic violations during their simulation.

“It’s hard to do,” said Logan Cyr, a senior at the high school. “It makes you realize how dangerous distracted driving can be.”

Lt. Jamie Pelletier organized the event which was held at the high school for the first time. While the students had a fun time doing the simulation, Pelletier said he made sure to get them to understand why they were there.

“I made it a point to ask, I know it’s fun, but is it effective?” Pelletier said. “And they said yes.”

Kameron Landry, a student at the high school, didn’t get too far into the simulation before his car crashed.

“It’s important because it shows me all the things that could potentially go wrong while texting and driving,” Landry said.

Over 120 students went through the program with about half crashing. Other students had incidents caused by their texting and being distracted, and some made it to the end of the simulation because they did not text while driving.

“[The students] made it through because they ignored the distractions,” Pelletier said.

Some students didn’t pay attention to their phone at all, he said.

“That’s good that they didn’t pick up their phones,” Pelletier said, but in this case, organizers did want the students to text and see the end results. “The intent [of the simulation] is to get them to drive distracted and answer their phones.”

There were not many students who used the voice-to-text feature on their cell phones.

When voice-to-text first came out, some thought that it would help keep devices hands-free and cause fewer accidents, according to Rick Tarr, the traffic safety educator with Atlantic Partners EMS Inc.

But he said there hasn’t been much research to back up any perks for the voice texting feature. He said that it can actually cause a greater distraction since people will proofread their message before sending it.

Tarr also brought a device called the “seatbelt convincer” in which students climb up to a seat, put on the seatbelt, and are released on an incline that allows the cart containing the seat to reach about five miles per hour before it makes contact with the bumper at the bottom. This collision causes a jolt in the cart and demonstrates, in a safe way, the importance of seatbelts.

“The odds are in your favor when you buckle up,” Tarr said.

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