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Driving simulator sobering for students

3/13/2014 - South Side Leader
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By Joyce Rainey Long

Manchester High School senior Connie Kline tries the intoxication driving simulator at her school Feb. 27.
Manchester High School senior Dakota Craig wears goggles to simulate being impaired and attempts to walk a straight line during a special program Feb. 27.
Photos: Joyce Rainey Long
NEW FRANKLIN — Connie Kline, a senior at Manchester High School, experienced driving while impaired without drinking any alcohol. Kline was one of several students who tried an intoxication driving simulator that was at the school Feb. 27 through a free outreach program by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT).

“It felt crazy and it was scary. I almost hit a deer and then I went off the road and hit a semi-truck,” Kline said. “This was definitely eye opening.”

Students also tried to text while driving the simulator or wore goggles that blurred their vision.

While sitting in the simulator, students were given automated driving instructions and used the steering wheel, gas and brake pedals that are connected to a computer screen, said Mickey Paljich, transportation manager for ODOT. Students had to navigate roads at dusk with traffic signals, stop signs, other vehicles and deer, he said.

“This gives students a taste of what it’s like, but we encourage them not to drive impaired,” said Paljich, a New Franklin resident with four children who attend school in the district. “The simulator gives you the sense you are not in control. The steering wheel doesn’t move easily and throws off equilibrium. You are light headed after drinking and don’t have the motor skills you do when you’re sober.”

About 200 students tried the simulator and goggles, said Paljich.

“The kids are having a ball while learning,” he said.

Students also attempted walking a straight line on the gymnasium floor while wearing the goggles.

“This was a fun way to learn [about driving while impaired or distracted] and you don’t have to learn the hard way,” said senior Austin Klein. “I guarantee this saved a lot of lives.”

The simulator was at the school as part of the PAC-7 Exchange, where students of different schools attend a day in another district each month, said Manchester High School Principal James France.

“This makes kids aware of the dangers of impaired driving — they could lose their lives,” said France, adding this is the fifth year for the alcohol awareness program. “Kids are really surprised by how much alcohol impairs their driving.”

When students crashed their vehicle, they learned the consequences of their actions. The simulator showed the arrest and court processes, costs incurred and a job interview where a company needs a copy of the driving record, he said.

At the end of the video on the simulator, students are told this situation can be avoided with one simple decision: “Don’t drink and drive.”

Students also were given the opportunity to text while driving the simulator and read questions on the computer screen they had to respond to by clicking a mouse, said Paljich. They answered questions, including if they wanted to go to dinner and if they wanted to pay with cash or credit. They also had to type in a telephone number, and usually the students stopped driving or slowed down while they texted, Paljich said.

“This made me realize how easy it is to get distracted on the road and how easily things can go wrong,” said Derek Mosher, a senior at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy in Cuyahoga Falls who attended the PAC-7 exchange day.

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