Simulator teaches Burlington City students dangers of distracted driving

Thanks to the PEERS Foundation, Burlington City High School students had the opportunity to see the dangers of driving while distracted through the use of a virtual reality simulator.

BURLINGTON CITY — Clarensky St. Louis got behind the wheel of a white Toyota on Thursday morning and put on a pair of driving goggles. The goggles allowed him to be transported to a simulated road, with a variety of obstacles, such as navigating stop signs and maneuvering around other vehicles.

“Now, start texting,” physical education teacher Samantha Rodolico told the sophomore.

A few seconds later, Clarensky and the classmates watching his driving heard the screeching of brakes, then a crash.

“I was good until this person came out of nowhere!” he said, taking off the goggles.

The simulated driving experience was brought to Burlington City High School by the nonprofit PEERS Foundation, which provides teenagers with the necessary knowledge for a healthy and successful life through real-life situations and challenges.

The distracted-driving virtual-reality simulator shows students the dangers of trying to engage in other activities while driving.

“Distracted driving continues to be a major cause of motor vehicle collisions, especially among young people,” a statement from the foundation said. “As our teens and young adults begin to drive, it is important that they realize the importance of safe driving behaviors.”

Over 3,470 people nationwide were killed in 2015 in automobile accidents that involved a distracted driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

″(This program) is part of the ‘Power Down, Buckle Up Campaign,’ ” Principal Jim Flynn said.

The school started the campaign to emphasize the importance of safe driving, especially because of where the students live and where the high school is located. Burlington City has been heavily involved in working to lower the speed limit on Route 130 in front of the high school campus after student Antwan Timbers was killed while walking along the state highway’s shoulder.

The school started a “25 Saves Lives” campaign in an effort to lower Route 130′s speed limit to 25 mph in the school zone. The normal 40-mph speed limit drops to 25 during the morning and afternoon hours when students are walking to and from school. Also, the divided highway was recently reduced from three lanes to two in both directions between Wood Street and Jacksonville Road/Federal Street.

The distracted-driving component is the latest school effort to encourage student drivers to be safe on the road, Flynn said.

After they completed the simulator, the teens were asked to sign a pledge that read, “I pledge my life not to text and drive.”

Senior Kelly Clark said using the simulator showed just how dangerous the real-life consequences can be when driving while distracted.

“I wouldn’t ever actually pull out my phone while I’m in the middle of driving,” Kelly said. “I have trouble even driving with the radio on.”

She said the risks of distracted driving are simply too great.

“You can kill someone. You can get seriously hurt,” she said. “You can drive distracted in a video game all you want, because there are no consequences. When you drive distracted in real life, there are consequences. Very severe consequences.”