By Ashley M. Casey
Students at Cayuga Community College’s Fulton campus learned about the dangers of texting or drinking while driving in Arrive Alive’s virtual reality driving simulation on Sept. 17.
UNITE International, a national distracted driving prevention organization, sends the Arrive Alive tour to high schools, colleges and other places around the country.
After answering a survey and signing a “Fight for Life” pledge to not drive distracted, participants took a “spin” in a Kia Soul outfitted with sensors on the steering wheel, brakes and gas pedal while wearing virtual reality goggles that showed a busy road course.
Drivers could choose between a program that simulated the effects of driving while drunk, or a program that allowed them to text using their own phones while attempting to drive.
Once the simulation was over, Arrive Alive team leaders Patrick Sheehy and Marty Burke, both of Myrtle Beach, S.C., presented the driver with a “citation” of his or her infractions, ranging from not driving the posted limit to vehicular manslaughter, and asked them to take a follow-up survey.
For Sheehy, the issue of distracted driving is personal. At the age of 18, Sheehy ran his car off the road into a tree while changing the radio station. He later joined the Arrive Alive campaign to prevent other drivers — especially teenagers and young adults — from making the same mistakes.
“A lot of people don’t realize you’re actually four times more likely to get in an accident while texting and driving (than drinking and driving),” Sheehy explained.
He and Burke spend the school year driving their virtual-reality-outfitted Kia Soul across the country. They also show informational videos on alcohol- and texting-related car accidents and their tragic, lifelong consequences. UNITE compiles the surveys they administer to present to schools and for a nationwide research project.
“When I realized how many people this really needed to reach, that’s when I decided to stick with it and get the word out. It’s an epidemic,” said Burke, who has worked with Arrive Alive for about three years.
A few CCC students who tried the simulation shared their thoughts on the eye-opening experience.
Ricky Colón of Oswego said that he was familiar with the dangers of texting or drinking and driving through safety courses he took while in the Army.
“It’s something that happens way too frequently, so we have to have more severe laws,” Colón said. “It’s a good reminder.”
New York state announced in August that the penalty for texting while driving is five points on one’s license and a minimum $230 fine.
After trying the simulator himself, Devon Thomason of Fulton encouraged his friends and classmates to do the same.
“I’m a new driver as it is. I’m not invincible and I know it,” he said. “I’m not going to put my life at risk to send a text message. It’s stupid.”
Caroline Braley of Oswego vowed to stop texting while driving.
“I knew it was dangerous but I didn’t realize how much more dangerous it is. It was hard to focus on the road, keep my speed, watch out for pedestrians and send a text message all at once,” she said of the simulator.
Arrive Alive also visited CCC’s Auburn campus Sept. 18. This was their first visit to the Fulton campus.
For more information about Arrive Alive and UNITE’s mission to end distracted driving, visit arrivealivetour.com.