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Distracted-driving simulation gives reality check to students, deputies

Cary Ashby • Mar 4, 2016 at 9:00 PM

Huron County Sheriff’s Lt. Terry Shean vividly remembers a 16-year-old boy experiencing a distracted-driving simulator at the Huron County Fair.

The boy confidently told the communications officer he could handle the challenge of texting at the same time as driving. In the simulation, a person sits in the driver’s seat guiding a car through a neighborhood while an unseen occupant gives directions and a cell phone at the bottom right of the screen chimes with various text messages. Throughout the travel route, pedestrians and animals step into the road.

“I have to tell you I’m very good at this,” Shean said, recalling what the boy told her. “He was making this statement to me: He’s good at texting and driving.”

As the boy “drove,” Shean reminded him he had to answer the texts that were being sent to him. 

“Are you going to answer that text?,” she said.

The teenager made a right turn and at the same time, a female pedestrian stepped into traffic and the boy’s virtual vehicle hit her. Since the woman was “killed,” a LifeFlight-style helicopter came to the scene and eventually, the simulation brought the boy to the courtroom. Shean said she remembers the boy became more intense as the storyline unfolded.

A “man” — the brother of the “victim” — confronted the boy during the courtroom scene.

“Because of you, my sister won’t be sitting by me at Thanksgiving,” Shean said, quoting the “victim.”

That was when reality hit the boy.

“He looked at me (and said), ’I didn’t see that coming,’” Shean said.

Sheriff Dane Howard said that’s the kind of experience he wants students in the Reflector’s readership area and his deputies to have after they use the distracted-driving simulation.

“Every deputy who drives a car will go through this (too). They drive all the time,” the sheriff said. “This is an important part of what they do. Training is paramount.”

For students, Howard said the simulation shows how easy it is to be distracted while they’re driving and “how much impact it has on their ability to drive properly.” The sheriff also said it’s an invaluable time for students to have a positive interaction with law-enforcement personnel.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is allowing the sheriff’s office to use the simulator free of charge. Starting Friday, it will be at New London Local Schools and from there, it will go to the other local school systems. Shean said the larger districts — Monroeville, Norwalk, Western Reserve and Willard — will have the simulation for a full five days while the others will use it for two to three school days.

If a “driver” is “injured” during a crash, the simulation launches a medical helicopter, which will transport the person to a hospital. Shean said experiencing it in the first-person point of view is like the “’M*A*S*H*’ view” — a reference to the iconic TV series featuring military doctors whose patients are soldiers on the front line of the Korean War — since the “patients” only can see how they would if they’re strapped into a gurney.

“I think it’s an important way to point out to kids the dangers of driving and how easy it is to get distracted,” Howard said.

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