Originally published April 3, 2013 in The Commonwealth Times
Assistant News Editor
Swerving between lanes and avoiding other cars and pedestrians that seem to cross out of nowhere are just a few of the challenges students encountered during the distracted driving virtual simulator on campus on Tuesday.
VCU students experienced what consequences distracted driving could have on their lives and of others during a simulation exercise through UNITE’s Arrive Alive Tour, sponsored by the VCU Police Department in honor of Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
While using the steering wheel, gas and brake of the simulator car, participants practiced texting on their cell phones while driving to imitate a real distracted driving experience.
“I was a lot more distracted than I thought,” said Katie Burger, a senior advertising major who accidentally killed a pedestrian at a stoplight during her simulation. “It was difficult … even when you think you’re not distracted you really are.”
Burger said that even though she doesn’t text and drive, the simulator taught her to be more aware of what was going on around her.
“People always focus on driving drunk but really there’s so many things in life that are going through your head (while driving),” she said.
Distracted driving, including texting and making calls, can be between four and eight times more life threatening than driving drunk, according to VCU PD and UNITE.
“Everyone knows that drunk driving is very dangerous and texting and driving is even more dangerous than drunk driving,” said VCU Police Chief John Venuti. “It really illustrates how dangerous of an activity that it is.”
Venuti said the simulator was a good tool to educate students about the harsh realities of being distracted behind the wheel. The police used the simulator to educate students about some of the more serious consequences of texting and driving.
But the consequences of distracted driving are now extending past possible accidents with new legislation. The Virginia General Assembly passed a law this year that will make texting and driving a primary offense, costing $125 for the first offense and $250 for a second. The law will go into effect in July.
“It’s an epidemic in this country,” said Patrick Sheehy, a simulator instructor with UNITE’s Arrive Alive Tour. “Ninety percent of the people I talk to before I run the simulation really have no idea how bad texting and driving and how dangerous it really is.”
According Sheehy, every letter texted while driving on the road is the equivalent of taking your eyes off the road for three seconds. If you send multiple messages or type full sentences, that means you could be driving for miles practically blindfolded.
VCU PD partnered with VCU Recreational Sports to bring the Arrive Alive Tour to VCU.
“It’s a part of overall health,” said Connie Kottmann, marketing coordinator at VCU Recreational Sports. “We’re all about health and wellness and fitness and one aspect of being healthy is make sure you have healthy behaviors.”