UNITE International gave students at Hagerstown Community College a startling demonstration of distracted driving on Thursday, as part of the organization’s Arrive Alive Tour.
Students at HCC were put behind the wheel with cell phones as part of a driving simulation, and the results were unnerving, to say the least. Students got in accidents, swerved all over the road, hit pedestrians, and ran red lights. Luckily, they did all these things from the safety of a parked car fitted with sensors that connected to virtual reality headgear.
Other students watched what the driver saw on two screens outside the car. In the simulation, no one got hurt, but it did remind students of what could happen if they choose to drive distracted.
“As they’re texting, you see the basic things you expect to see,” team leader Patrick Sheehy told Herald Mail Media. “Lane drifting, slowing way down, speeding way up, perhaps running red lights, and then the worst-case scenario, being in an accident or hitting a pedestrian.”
Sheehy said that about 80% of accidents on the road are a result of some form of distracted driving. Distractions come in many forms, from texting to eating to even the type of car. Automatic transmissions outnumber manuals in the used car market 10 to 1, which means that new drivers who are less familiar with manuals may find them difficult to drive even without the distractions of an incoming text or a drive-through burger.
Sheehy handed out “citations” to each student who participated in the simulation. “I think a lot of people realize that drinking and driving is extremely dangerous and illegal, but don’t take the time to think that the cellphone in their hand could potentially be even more dangerous,” Sheehy told Herald Mail Media. “For every alcohol-related accident on the road today, you’re looking at about four texting and driving accidents.”
According to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, an average of 250 people died each year from 2008-2012 due to distracted driving in Maryland, and 30,000 were injured. Cell phones were a major factor.
Over 100 students signed UNITE’s pledge to avoid texting and driving. The event was sponsored by the college, the MVA, and Meritus Health.