Distracted driving simulator touring Monroe County schools

Students at area high schools will learn about the hazards of distracted driving via a simulator system.

A new virtual-reality distracted driving simulation is challenging students from more than 10 area high schools to make responsible choices while behind the wheel.

The Augmented Reality Distracted Driving Education Simulator (ARDDES) is expected to visit 12 local high schools through May, thanks to a grant from the La- Z-Boy Foundation and collaboration with the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office and PEERS Foundation.

“Thousands of people needlessly die every year because drivers choose their phones over their duty to drive safely,” said county Prosecutor Michael G. Roehrig. “In the hope of saving some of those lives, this program will draw the attention of a targeted audience of young drivers to the inherent dangers associated with distracted driving.” The program kicked off in March at Milan High School and will conclude May 6 at Mason High School.

When using the ARDDES simulator, students can see their own hands, along with a real cellphone and the actual steering wheel and dashboard of a simulator car. But reality stops there.

Using augmented reality, the students will use the simulator to drive through a virtual world, officials said. When a student looks through any of the car windows, for example, they will see the virtual landscape.

The goal of the software is to change young adults’ conditioned response to check their cellphones when they ring, no matter what they might be doing at the time.

“Our teens … learn to pick up their phones and look at them every time they ding,” said Laura Dillivan, PEERS Foundation sponsor outreach and relationship coordinator. “By the time they turn 16 and get behind the wheel of a car, it’s a conditioned response. “When their cellphone goes off, without even thinking about it, they look at it immediately, even though they’re driving.”

Video of the simulator

ARDDES from PEERS Foundation on Vimeo.

The ARDDES simulator is successful in changing that conditioned response, Dillivan said, because teens are gravitated toward the high-tech program, making its message resonate long after the experience.

Sixty days after an ARDDES intervention, 82 percent of participants remained committed to their pledge not to use smartphones while driving, according to follow- up surveys from the program, officials said.

So far, students from Milan, Monroe County Middle College and St. Mary Catholic Central High School have participated in the simulation.

Following is a roundup of the remaining area schools expected to participate:

■ Dundee High School — Today

■ Jefferson High School — Thursday

■ Whiteford High School — Friday

■ Monroe High School — Monday

■ Ida High School — Tuesday

■ Bedford High School — May 1

■ Airport High School — May 2

■ Summerfield High School — May 3

■ Mason High School — May 6