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Nov 14, 2010 12:38 PM by Chris Welty

DWI Simulator Adds Texting While Driving

DRY PRONG, La. (AP) - She took off the virtual reality headset,
got out of the car and looked at her printed-out ticket for running
a red light and killing a pedestrian while sending a cell phone
text message.
"I got a ticket for speeding, swerving, failing to stop and
manslaughter ... yeah, I hit somebody," said Grant High School
student Cierra Fussell, 15.
The simulator, sponsored by the Grant Parish Sheriff's Office,
provided the next crop of drivers from Grant Parish with an
almost-real experience on the consequences that can come with
distracted or drunken driving.
"We want to make people aware of the dangers of drunk driving
and the dangers of texting while driving, so that they can make
smart decisions regarding their driving habits," said Jan
Griffith, from Unite International, the company that supplied the
equipment for the event.
The equipment includes a stationary car called a Stop-Loss
simulator tied to sensors and two virtual reality headsets.
One mimics the view of a drunk driver and slows down the
student's reaction time depending on the blood-alcohol level set by
the computer. The other simulates reaction time for texters.
Griffith said his company goes to many schools in the hopes that
young people will listen to the message that drinking as well as
texting while driving is illegal.
"Not everyone listens. You can talk, and some people don't take
it seriously, but you can tell many of them do, you get positive
reactions," Griffith said as the wheels of the simulator
screeched, burning the pavement as another student lost control of
the simulator vehicle.
Micah Murrell, school resource officer with the Grant Parish
Sheriff's Office, said his office sponsors the event annually to
make sure that students who will soon become drivers get a reality
check on the responsibility of being behind the wheel.
"These are our next drivers. All of the 10th-graders in the
parish came today, and they will be the next ones on the road, so
we want all of our drivers to have a high awareness level about"
the potential consequences of texting while driving and of drinking
and driving, Murrell said.
Students Caitlin Dean and Courtney Carroll said it was a good
learning opportunity. They said they had never been in a similar
situation and hope they never will be.
"I felt like I couldn't control the car. I felt like I was
turning a little bit, but I was actually turning a lot more.
Everything was delayed," Caitlin said.
Courtney said she should be getting her driver's license soon,
but is concerned about the dangers on the roadway.
Jesse Odom, another student taking part in the event, said he
has seen young people lose control while drinking. He said he was
at a party recently and saw a transformation taking place as the
effects of alcohol took over.
"It wasn't good for everybody. Me and my friend left the party,
we went home," said Odom, who hopes people will heed the lessons
learned at the event.

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