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Published: Wednesday, 3/13/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Distracted-driving simulator shows dangers of texting-while-driving

BY MATT THOMPSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Owens student Kewanna Vessel reacts to hitting a U-Haul while texting and driving while using a simulator. Owens student Kewanna Vessel reacts to hitting a U-Haul while texting and driving while using a simulator.
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Kewanna Vessel got behind the wheel of a distracted-driving simulator Tuesday and swerved her car on the screen through a stop sign, over another street sign, and then head-on into a truck.

"It only takes a half a second," she said.

"It shows how fast an accident could happen. Even when you think you are in control, anything can happen."

Owens Community College hosted the Save a Life Tour campaign, sponsored by Kramer International, that brought two distracted-driving simulators to the Perrysburg Township campus. Each simulator put the students behind a wheel with an iPod. They had to drive and text. After 30 seconds, the iPod received different texts, asking questions to the driver every 15 seconds following the initial text. 

Jonathan Saigeon, manager of the distracted-driving program, said usually such a scenario ends in bad accidents. Thousands of people have participated in the program, but only a few make it through the four-minute simulation without swerving into the other lanes and hitting things, he said.

"It is the ones that are good at it that scare me," he said. "We go to high schools and the kids get scared right away and start shaking and they don't even want to text during the simulation. That is good."

A coffin sits outside the hallway of a classroom where Owens students were given an opportunity to text and drive in a simulator. A coffin sits outside the hallway of a classroom where Owens students were given an opportunity to text and drive in a simulator.
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On Aug. 31, a new Ohio law made it illegal for teens to use a handheld wireless device while in traffic, including while sitting at a light or stop sign. That means no texting or talking on the phone. The misdemeanor offense could result in a $150 fine and a 60-day driver's license suspension; a second violation is a $300 fine and a one-year suspension.

Ms. Vessel, an Owens student majoring in English literature of Toledo, asked Kramer International representatives if they could go to her 15-year-old child's high school because she just got him a phone and he will be driving soon.

Adam Kelly, who travels on the tour with Mr. Saigeon, said he enjoys doing this teaching because he was in an accident caused by distracted driving. He is trying to get students to "not make stupid mistakes."

"We are teaching kids how dangerous distracted driving is," Mr. Kelly said. "It is most common to happen at this age [high school and college students]. It takes just a second to ruin a life."

Marlissa Nordhaus, Owens student government vice president at the Perrysburg Township campus, said it is important to bring such a program to campus. She said the student government wanted to do something different from drunk-driving simulation because distracted driving is so prevalent. 

During her use of the simulator, she ran into a wall after swerving into oncoming traffic during her simulation.

"I had a personal friend a year and a half ago get in an accident because of it," Ms. Nordhaus said about distracted driving. "It was on the expressway. It wasn't bad, no one was hurt, but she doesn't take her phone in the car with her because she is too scared."

Owens student Alex Bohland texts and drives in the simulator, as  Adam Kelly, an employee of the firm which tours the simulator, watches. Owens student Alex Bohland texts and drives in the simulator, as Adam Kelly, an employee of the firm which tours the simulator, watches.
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Not everyone was scared straight Tuesday.  Brad Hooser, an Owens student studying economics from West Unity, Ohio, said it was fun with the simulator and nothing surprised him or scared him.

Mr. Saigeon said some students still say they are going to continue to text and drive.

"I asked one high school student what it will take for her not to text and drive, she said 'honestly, it will take me getting into a serious accident'," he said. "Why let it get to that?"

Contact Matt Thompson at: mthompson@theblade.com or 419-356-8786 or on twitter at @mthompson25.



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