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Virginia teens use simulator to experience behind-the-wheel dangers: 'Really hard to pay attention'

'I thought it was really hard to move the steering wheel. And when he was telling me to do things, it was really hard to pay attention to the road at the same time."
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Posted at 4:55 PM, May 11, 2023

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Virginia Beach teenagers are getting a life lesson on the dangers of distracted driving.

This week, sophomores at several Virginia Beach City Public Schools will be able to visualize drunk driving with the help of virtual reality technology.

Representatives of Hall MileOne Autogroup, MileOneCares, and DRIVE SMART Virginia, will visit Cox High School, First Colonial High School, and Kellam High School the week of May 9.

During the demonstrations, students participate in a couple of hands-on activities. During one, they actually get behind the wheel of a truck that remains stationary; however, they use a virtual reality headset that shows them a driving course. The DRIVE SMART instructor talks them through it and includes some distractions such as the phone, radio, or reaching for items in the truck.

"I thought it was really hard to move the steering wheel," said student Madi Maloney, "And when he was telling me to do things, it was really hard to pay attention to the road at the same time."

The other obstacle involves a pedal cart set up in the parking lot. Before making their way through the course, participants strap on goggles that simulate someone being intoxicated. Some reported double vision while wearing them. While some did the course without crashing, others had a tough time and ran into obstacles set up along the route.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, teens drive fewer miles than adults, but their number of accidents and deaths is disproportionately high. The fatal crash rate per mile driven for 16 to 19-year-olds is nearly three times that for drivers over 20. The organization says that in Virginia, teen fatalities increased by 36% from 2020-2021, mostly due to drinking, speeding, inattention, and unrestrained occupants.

Cindy Hiltz teaches a driver's education course at Cox. She said the students who participated in this simulation last year reported it being memorable.

"We have a whole module that we cover on distracted driving," said Hiltz. "It’s a huge problem on our roads today. Just coming to school seeing so many people driving on their phones and not paying attention to what they’re doing."

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