Distractology At Falmouth High School

Falmouth High School senior Peter Doonan tries sending a text while driving the Distractology simulator.

The driver slows to a stop at a busy four-way intersection and signals with his blinker to turn left. Across the way is another vehicle also turning left, partially blocking the view of oncoming cars going straight at the traffic light.

The first driver begins to make his turn and, with the briefest of warnings, a police cruiser smashes into his car’s front end, shattering the windshield as it barrels straight through the four-way.

Yet no one is injured, and no actual damage is done.

The crash is part of a high-tech simulator experience called “Distractology” that is designed to show new drivers how dangerous it is to operate a vehicle when distracted by activities such as texting.

The Arbella Insurance Foundation created and funds Distractology, now in its 10th year, with Almeida & Carlson Insurance Agency as its Falmouth partner.

In a 36-feet-long mobile trailer outside Falmouth High School during the school day from Tuesday, November 12, through Friday, November 15, students got to experience how distractions interfere with their ability to react on the road, see hidden hazards and avoid accidents while safely behind the wheel of a driving simulator.

The program was free, available to new drivers with their learner’s permit or license for less than three years. Participants also received a $15 gas card.

Drivers from more than 140 high schools who completed Distractology have been proven to be 15 percent less likely to have an accident or receive a traffic violation, according to Arbella data from 2010 to 2018.

Arbella worked with the UMass Amherst College of Engineering to create the simulations.

“Distracted driving is an epidemic in the US. Every day, more than nine people are killed and more than 1,000 people are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver,” Arbella wrote in a brochure. “Reaching for a phone, dialing, texting and other uses of handheld devices quadruple the risk of getting into a crash serious enough to injure the driver. Eighty-six percent of teen drivers have driven while distracted, even though 84 percent know it’s dangerous.”

The driving scenarios are based on real-world examples and include cellphone use, eating, or adjusting the radio. Participants spend about 45 minutes training on the simulators. Afterward, they are asked to watch a short interactive video reinforcing what they learned in the trailer.

Massachusetts has banned text messaging while driving for all drivers and has banned all cellphone use, including those with hands-free devices, for novice drivers.

Distraction plays a role in nearly 60 percent of teen crashes, AAA reports, and the Ad Council reports that texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.

Inside the trailer Wednesday, Nicolay Prpich and Lesley Cahoon, the instructors from Arbella and Almeida & Carlson, guided Alec Small and Peter Doonan, both Falmouth High School seniors, through a practice simulation on separate machines that look like arcade racing games with three connected screens to give a wide field of view.

The screens show realistic graphics of vehicles, buildings and landscapes, as well as the car’s speedometer, side- and rear-view mirrors, and blinkers.

“Distractology last came to Falmouth three years ago, and every slot is booked this year,” Ms. Cahoon said.

Alec and Peter both struggled to keep their awareness of road signs and pedestrians in crosswalks when distracted by texting or changing radio stations, and when they caused an accident, the simulator would give instruction about how to improve their driving, at different speeds in different conditions from countryside to city to highway, or how to reduce distraction.

The sounds of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” played in the background as Peter cruised to a smooth stop at a small-town intersection after a series of “instructional” accidents involving pedestrians and other vehicles.

“What did you learn?” Mr. Prpich asked.

“You really have to watch out for street signs and keep your speed down,” Peter said, keeping his hands on the steering wheel and his eyes on the simulated road.

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