Michigan Driving Simulator Demonstrates Distraction Hazards

By DEAN COUSINO | November 30, 2012

Gleishya Morales nearly tore up the track during a recent vehicle simulator exercise on texting and driving at the Monroe Township Fire Station.

While driving a golf cart owned by the Michigan State Police, she drove over a couple of orange cones and dragged another.

“Ooops, I should have kept my eyes on the road more,” said Morales, who turns 16 next month. “My life is way more important than answering a text.”

She was not the only one who trashed the course during an open house hosted by firefighters and Explorers. A number of other younger and some older drivers also dragged a few cones. But it was only practice for the real thing, said Trooper Tressa Duffin, the instructor who rode along with the drivers.

“Most of them were not too bad, but they were only driving at 3 to 5 mph,” Trooper Duffin said. “What happens when they’re going 50-60 mph?? They have to know what to do.”

The exercise involved driving the cart through a maze of orange cones with a cell phone in the lap of the driver. Trooper Duffin gave them three text messages to see how they would react. The drivers would pick up the phone and look at the text, which led many of them to go off course.

She just killed all the cones,” Trooper Duffin said after one young female driver finished the course. “She was only 15.”

Like her friend Morales, Chazlyn Frank, 15, is taking a regular driver’s education course to get her driver’s permit. She had a rough ride, too, but only collided with two cones.

“If that was real, I would have killed myself,” Chazlyn said afterward. “One minute without your eyes on the road can be the end. It (the text message) is not worth your life. It can wait.”

Morales agreed.

“Texting and driving is dangerous. If you do it, you can say goodbye to your life,” she said.

Clint Worrell, 32, of Monroe had trouble on the course when his text messages came in. He said he would probably pull off the road if he wanted to text. His friend, James Thrush of Petersburg, handled it a little better. He only clipped a couple of cones.

“I never text and drive, God no,” Thrush, 35, said.

Jordan Nadeau, 16, didn’t strike any cones. He has his license, but also doesn’t text while driving. He said his father, David, a volunteer firefighter, taught him early on not to do so for his own safety.

“He stressed with me you got to keep looking ahead and not look down,” Jordan said.

Trooper Duffin said any kind of distracted driving is bad, whether it’s texting or reaching for something.

“It can be worse on the road if you reach down or across the seat,” she said. “Your arm goes where your body goes. That can be dangerous if you’re driving.”

She stressed with the drivers that they shouldn’t answer a text or pick up their phones while driving.

“I want the kids to see they can’t pick up the phone when driving,” she said. “Their foot is jerking and their head is bobbing up and down. We like to think we can multi-task, but what it does is restrict their vision. In real life, they (shouldn’t) pick up the phone. Just leave it or pull over to the side of the road.”

She said a fatal accident Friday morning in Monroe Township involving a woman who was struck by a car while watching her daughter board a school bus was a sad example of a “distracted driver.” State police are continuing to investigate the cause of the accident.

Paul and Tammy VanAiken ran a booth at the open house giving away free bright orange and lime T-shirts that read “Please Don’t Text and Drive.” The couple started the campaign two years ago. They have given away an estimated 8,000 T-shirts away to people all over the country. Some of the T-shirts come in black and the letters are bloody red to send a message.

One of the Explorers – Harley Braden, 18 – said the driver education course she took didn’t teach about the dangers of texting while driving.

“They should have this so they can prepare for later on when you do get behind the wheel,” Braden said.

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