Whittier Students Learn Consequences of Distracted Driving Through Simulation

Chloe Magee, a junior from Groveland, tests her ability to avoid distractions while on the road in the Distractology van. (Courtesy Photo Whittier Tech)

Students from Groveland, Haverhill
and West Newbury Share Experiences

HAVERHILL — At first glance, students who sat inside the orange Distractology van stationed outside Whittier appeared to be engaged in a video arcade game. In reality, young drivers were testing their ability to remain focused on the road when presented with distractions.

During the week of March 5, 60 students participated in a 45-minute simulation, getting a firsthand experience of how distractions interfere with their ability to react, see hidden hazards and avoid accidents.

The National Occupant Protection Use Survey reports that at any given time, there are 660,000 distracted drivers on the road. To date, drivers who complete the Distractology course are proven to be 19 percent less likely to be involved in accidents and 25 percent less likely to get traffic violations.

“Kids are easily distracted behind the wheel with the radio, food and cell phones,” said Whittier School Resource Officer Jamie Landry, who brought the Distractology van to Whittier. “This program shows them what can happen in a split second if they’re not paying attention.”

Distractology features several simulations, all designed to raise participants’ awareness of the many distractions that can occur while driving. Students encountered obstructed intersections, changes in speed and other distracted drivers. Most telling were the scenarios in which students were told to text on their phone or change radio stations while continuing to drive, often at simulated speeds of 55 mph.

Sara Tashjian, a junior from Haverhill, participates in the Distractology driving simulation. (Courtesy Photo Whittier Tech)

“It was very accurate about what can quickly come without you noticing,” said Chloe Magee, a junior from Groveland, who got her license in November. “I’m going to pay more attention to things around me.”

“It was eye-opening that I couldn’t multitask and drive,” added Sara Tashjian, a junior from Haverhill. “I kept crashing and hitting things. The biggest challenge was trying to Snapchat.”

Allison O’Connor, a junior from West Newbury who has her learner’s permit, also crashed more than once during the simulation.

“It was kind of scary,” she said. “Crashes can happen so easily. I didn’t see the sign, pedestrian crossing or the stop sign ahead.”

Students who participated received a $15 gas card and the opportunity to follow up with a short quiz online that could reduce the cost of their car insurance.

The popular program, launched by Arbella Insurance Charitable Foundation nine years ago, visits 34 New England high schools each year and has a long waiting list.

It took four years for it to make it to Whittier. Fred C. Church Insurance of Haverhill sponsored the event.