Arrive alive: Students take simulator for a test drive

by Deborah Buckhalter / Jackson County Floridan

Exercise brings home the danger of texting and driving
Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 3:01 pm

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All this week, students of driving age in Jackson County will have a chance to get behind the wheel of a stationary car outfitted with equipment that will let them “drive” the car using the gas, brake and steering wheel as they normally would, navigating a route of travel presented via a virtual reality set-up.

The student behind the wheel is asked to use his or her phone to send and read text messages while driving the course.

Some students wound up “wrecking” because their texting distracted them from the road. Sometimes, pedestrians were in peril, as well.

While they’re running their course, their classmates watch their progress on a television monitor mounted just behind the driver’s side of the car.

It was a set-up that had students at Marianna High School bunched together and focused on the screen Tuesday morning. No teachers had to keep them corralled there; their interest was intense.

That was just what Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts had hoped would happen, along with a fervent hope that the students would carry away a lasting message from the experience. Seeing themselves veer from the course while texting might break the guilty from the habit of texting and driving, and lead the youngest drivers to a personal commitment to never text and drive, he believes.

Roberts arranged the Arrive Alive Tour from UNITE, the roughly $10,500 cost funded through support from the Jackson County Commission, local car dealers who donated the use of the vehicles temporarily outfitted for the event, auto insurance companies who chipped in some dollars, as well as with money from a special crime prevention fund at the sheriff’s department. Greta Langley of Allstate Insurance and James Coyle Mayo of Mayo Insurance Company presented checks to Roberts earlier this month, with Langley also providing some anti-texting take-home materials for the students. Roberts said he believed the program will have long term effects on young drivers coming of age at a time when texting and driving is an increasingly common danger.

The simulator was stationed at Sneads High on Monday, will be at Malone School on Wednesday, at Graceville High on Thursday and at Cottondale High on Friday. It is at each school from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., with students visiting the simulator station in small batches.

Virtually all students of driving age will have been behind the wheel by the time the week is up, Roberts hopes.