Thanks to the Arbella Insurance Foundation, and the Amos A. Phelps/J.H. Slattery Insurance Agency of Rockland, about 70 RHS students with licenses or learning permits took part last week in a driver safety program called Distractology.
Two interactive, high-tech simulators, housed inside a trailer parked outside Rockland High School, were available to students from Oct. 1 to Oct. 5 during the school day. Students had signed up voluntarily with the RHS Guidance staff under the direction of Guidance Director, Margaret Black and used a study block to take part in the program.
Nick Pripich-Romani, the tour manager from Arbella, directed about 14 students a day through seven different simulations that challenged them to keep their virtual cars on the road or out of crashes. Each student was in the driver’s seat for about 45 minutes.
For example, one of the simulations begins with a hidden curve. If students miss the warning sign for the curve and don’t slow down because of a distraction, they can rear end a car at a stop sign up ahead. That’s what happened to one RHS senior who wound up in a crash. He said, “That stop sign came up really fast.”
Other distractions that are simulated include looking at a cell phone, posting to social media, taking a selfie and changing the radio station.
In between each scenario, students read statistics about distracted driving. According to the CDC, nine people are killed every hour and more than 1,000 are injured as a result of distracted drivers. Teens have the highest crash rate of any group in the United States. According to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, new teen drivers ages 16-17 years old are three times as likely as adults to be involved in a deadly crash. What’s more, 86 percent of teenage drivers have driven while distracted, even though 84 percent know it’s dangerous.
Seniors Tyler Beatrice and Dylan Cleaves signed up for the driving challenges and said that it was a good learning experience. Beatrice said that he thought the simulations were realistic and helped to reinforce the dangers of letting texting distract you while you are driving.
Pripich-Romani noted that the Arbella Insurance Foundation has been bringing the Distractology program to schools in the New England area for nine years.
Kimberly Phelps Nelson of Amos A. Phelps/JH Slattery Insurance Agency explained why they were eager to bring the program to Rockland High School students.
“We wanted to draw attention to the epidemic of distracted driving,” she said. “This program has been proven to decrease accident rates by 20% which speaks to the value of educating young drivers and changing driving behavior early on.”