Wausau students learn about distracted driving in augmented reality simulator

WAUSAU – Distracted driving kills hundreds in Wisconsin every year even with specific laws in the Badger State against texting behind the wheel.

Tuesday, students at Wausau East High School used an augmented reality simulator to experience the dangers of distracted driving first-hand.

“A lot can go wrong really quickly [be]cause the simulator took maybe at most twenty seconds,” said 11th grade student RJ Brod.

The PEERS Foundation simulator students tested Tuesday featured augmented reality goggles that offer a 360 degree view. A representative from the foundation said it’s the only technology of its kind used for distracted driving simulations in the U.S.
Distracted driving prevention educator Susan Meekhof added an extra level of diversion to the experience by prompting students to take selfies, text, or use the Internet.

“While they’re texting they’re messing up, all over the road they’re speeding they’re crashing into trees,” said Meekhof. “They make a mess.”
According to the PEERS Foundation, 88% of students who experience the simulator “strongly agree” that they are more likely to eliminate distractions afterward.

Students Tuesday didn’t just learn from the immersive augmented realty experience. P.E.E.R.S educators also presented distracted driving statistic and a video showcasing one driver’s experience getting hit by a distracted driver.
Teachers at Wausau East said the entire event created a dialogue to talk about those issues.

“It lead into some really good conversations about kids who are making good choices or kids who say I could do better,” said health and P.E. teacher Jessica Truax.

For school resource officer Nick Stetzer, the event was the perfect opportunity to teach students about consequences.

“Driving is definitely a privilege, not a right, ” said Stezter. “So I think taking that and putting that into perspective for these kids is an eye opening experience.”
Students Tuesday also signed a pledge to avoid distractions while driving. The entire event was sponsored by State Farm at no cost to the school.
The penalty for texting and driving in Wisconsin ranges anywhere from $20 to $400.