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Virtual reality teaches students ‘real’ reality of impaired driving

Ready to go! Cameron Wandrie braces for action in the “Arrive Alive simulator”(WL photo Sue Botos)

By Sue Botos

Rocky River – Ayron Austin, a facilitator with “UNITE’s Arrive Alive Tour,” used an analogy the teenagers could understand recently when addressing Lutheran West students before they took a virtual spin in an impaired driving simulator, set up in the school’s front parking lot.

“This is kind of like Grand Theft Auto minus the murder and mayhem,” Austin said.

Two “Arrive Alive Tour” teams travel throughout the lower 48 states for six to eight months a year, giving high school and college students the opportunity to experience the dangers of impaired driving in a safe environment. The tour landed at Lutheran West May 15.

“The program has been around for 13 to 15 years and used to just focus on drinking. We still do that. But we have added on distracted driving,” said Austin, adding that dis

Arrive Alive – Ayron Austin explains the Arrive Alive simulation to Lutheran West students.

tracted driving – specifically cellphone use – has overtaken alcohol as the No. 1 cause of driving accidents.

 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driving a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. Reports by the organization indicate that sending or receiving a text takes drivers’ eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, similar to driving the length of a football field at 55 MPH, blindfolded.

NHTSA adds that the proportion of alcohol-related fatalities dropped 52 percent since 1982, but the number of nonalcohol-related crashes jumped 78 percent during that time.

In the simulations, sensors on the gas pedal and brakes, and pads on the front tires, feed information into a computer. The virtual headset shows the driver the course.

For the drinking scenario, Austin said a delay is put on the vehicle’s controls. The more drinks “consumed,” the slower the controls become, simulating impaired reflexes.

Ninth-grader Cameron Wandrie was the first to don virtual reality glasses and enter the SUV simulator. The “driver” had two options: Drunk driving or texting. Wandrie chose drunk driving. Quickly, he “crashed” the car – something Wandrie admitted was a bit scary.

While other students took turns, Austin peppered those waiting with facts. “You can be fined 10 to 15 grand if you’re caught driving drunk,” he said. “With distracted driving, 85 percent is caused by cellphones.”

“You just ran over a puppy,” he yelled to a student in the simulator.

Receiving the correct answer of .08 when he questioned the students about the legal blood alcohol level in Ohio, he noted that a few states still have no laws regarding drinking and driving. “In Michigan (his home state), we have specific (police) cars looking for people texting and driving.”

“Am I on the wrong side of the road?” a student called out. The screen set up outside of the tent housing the simulator showed that was exactly the case.

“This isn’t England!” responded teacher Cindy Brown. A mother of five, she said the program is an eye-opener for students.

“What we hope for, is if they plan on going out and partying, this will have some impact,” said Austin. “The older they get, the more they may think (the simulation) is not realistic. But this holds better than just talking to them.”

 

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