Distracted-Driving Simulator Shows Texting Dangers

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With proms and graduation approaching, more teenagers are on the road and so are their phones, which is what worries parents.

Distracted driving was blamed for 440,000 accidents in 2009, and 5,474 deaths, but if those numbers don’t drive home the danger, a ride in a distracted-driving simulator will.

That’s what Grace Wooldridge and her friends Catherine and Marlee did at the AAA Minnesota/Iowa headquarters in Burnsville. They are products of the cell phone generation — teens who text all day and have to consciously avoid their phones when they drive.

When Wooldridge tried the simulator, she was surprised by the results.

“I was speeding more,” she said. “When I was looking at my phone, I wasn’t really paying attention to the other cars. I almost hit a train because it came quick and I was looking away.”

Catherine struggled even more. Trying to text on her touch screen, she kept crashing.

“It was harder than I expected,” she said.

And although Marlee can text without looking, her driving was still filled with swerving and speeding.

“Even if you’re not looking away,” said Lee Glamm of AAA Minnesota/Iowa, “your brain is still being used more for that text and less for driving.”

It’s a message that’s heard by every kid in the country. Still, parents worry.

“I pray that she doesn’t do any of that,” said Grace’s father, Scott. “I see cars swerve and I pull up next to them and somebody is looking down.”

And that’s why this simulator can be so helpful. A hands-on experience, convincing teens to keep their hands off the phone.

“Keep the phone in the glove compartment,” said Grace, “away from me, probably on silent so I’m not even listening for the buzz or anything.”

Studies show you’re 23 percent more likely to crash if you’re texting. AAA Minnesota/Iowa takes that simulator to schools, and it’s also reaching out to teens by challenging them to produce distracted driving PSAs.

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