UNION — Sometimes asking the simplest of questions can be life threatening.
Union High School students learned this firsthand Thursday thanks to a stop by the UNITE Arrive Alive Tour team from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Arrive Alive brought a simulator that gives people a safe way to experience the dangers they face when texting and driving or driving while under the influence of alcohol.
“We want to heighten their awareness,” said Mallory McKenzie, an Arrive Alive simulator operator who came to Union High School.
The centerpiece of the Arrive Alive team is a stationary Jeep Patriot with a simulator inside that gives people the feel of what it is like to drive while texting or under the influence of alcohol. Students had the option of doing either. Students choosing to text and drive were asked to type in questions like “What’s for dinner?” or “What is the movie?” on a cellphone in the simulator.
UHS senior Tana Fouts was one of the students who took on the challenge of texting and driving in the simulator. Fouts, who crashed as did all of her classmates, said the experience jolted her.
“I’m shaking,” she said moments after her simulated drive.
Garret Gaston, also a senior, had a similar response.
“It’s disturbing,” he said. “I could have hit someone (in driving and texting in real life).”
Arrive Alive simulator operator Kent Tiedeman told students the dangerous part of texting and driving is that it takes your eyes off the road. Looking away from the road for even a brief time can be catastrophic especially at highway speeds.
“When you are driving 60 miles per hour, you travel the length of a football field almost every three seconds,” he said. “A lot can happen in that time.”
Tiedeman, who with McKenzie travels throughout the United States on the Arrive Alive Tour, said many students are overconfident when it comes to texting and driving.
“Some students think they are good texters when they are moving but they are still looking down,” he said.
He said studies show that people who text and drive are 23 times more likely to get into an accident.
Students who chose to try the simulator while in the driving under the influence of alcohol mode faced the challenge of dealing with limitations like slow reaction time.
“Signals from the brain are delayed (when one is intoxicated),” Tiedeman said.
To simulate slowed reflexes, the simulator’s brakes take 0.25 of a second to respond and its steering wheel is also slow to respond.
UHS senior Katie Good was struck by how difficult it was to operate the vehicle during the driving under the influence simulation.
“I thought I was going backward,” she said. “It was not easy.”
Beaver Brandt, also a UHS senior, agreed.
“This is trippy. This is why I do not drink,” said Brandt, who said he has never consumed alcohol.
He was frustrated with the slow response of the simulator’s brakes.
“Are there brakes in this?” Brandt shouted during his drive in the simulator.
Student Ashlyn Burk was alarmed by what happened to her while operating the simulator in its driving under the influence mode.
“I stopped on the wrong side of the road,” the UHS senior said.
Most students received citations from the Arrive Alive team charging them with distracted driving or driving under the influence of intoxicants. Others were not so fortunate, being pronounced dead at the scene because of the severity of their accidents.
The Arrive Alive team, whose stop at UHS was paid for by the Union School District, brings its simulator to high schools throughout the nation. McKenzie said their stops can be a humbling experience for students, who often feel invincible.
“A lot are surprised at how difficult it is,” she said. “Many of them think (an accident involving texting or alcohol) won’t happen to me.”
It takes only a few minutes in the simulator to change this attitude.
“It gets real quickly,” Tiedeman said.