Spending even a short time in the Pennsylvania DUI Safety Simulator offers fair insight into why new drivers are limited to a single passenger under the age of 18 for six months after getting their license.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, up to 13 backseat drivers shouted advice and warnings to their classmates taking their turn at the wheel of a virtual driving experience that puts students into a real car “cockpit” with working instruments and a three-screen, 120-degree view.
The results for some would have been deadly in the real world.
Local State Farm agents Jon Fetterman, Greg Lunde and Mike Shope displayed the simulator at Big Spring, Boiling Springs and Carlisle high schools last week to show drivers the risks of not only everyday driving but also of impaired driving.
Lunde said the simulator drives just like a regular car and students are instructed to drive as they would normally drive.
“Some of them like to think they can beat the machine and they go too fast. Other ones are really tentative,” he said.
A system operator can take the driver through hundreds of driving scenarios ranging from rural roads to city streets in all types of weather and lighting conditions.
Adding hazards like an emergency vehicle coming off a side street into the scenario brings out the inexperience of the young drivers, Lunde said.
“It puts you in a lot of scenarios that you usually don’t see a lot of,” said Colby Page, a junior at Boiling Springs, who got his license the day before the simulator visit.
Usually drivers don’t see all of those dangers at once, so it’s pretty hard to know what to do when they’re all right in front of you, he said.
“It’s an interesting experience, and it’s a lot harder than it seems,” said Cole Barber, also a junior.
If the driver makes it far enough into the scenario without hitting a pedestrian or becoming involved in a crash, the system operator can start adding the effects of two alcoholic drinks at a time into the scenario, Lunde said. That affects the responsiveness of the steering wheel on the simulator.
“You turn it, but nothing happens. When it does catch up, you’re over-steering,” Lunde said.
Thomas Tynan, a Boiling Springs junior who doesn’t have a license yet, made it through the scenario to the point that the equivalent of six drinks were added. He said there was a lot of swerving and stopping was a bit of an issue.
Justin Kretzing, a driver’s education teacher at Carlisle Senior High School, said he was impressed with his students throughout the morning. The exercise forces students to take into account all the variables they don’t usually consider, and brings them to the realization that driving does not mean just going straight down the road.
“It really gets them to look at the big picture,” he said.
Students said the simulator was helpful for younger drivers, especially as they prepare for prom and graduation season, as well as college.
“This will show them that there’s a lot of dangers on the road and you’ve got to pay attention. If you don’t pay attention, you’re going to hit someone,” Barber said.