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In Braintree, students get lesson in distracted driving

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  October 1, 2012 02:10 PM

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Dozens of new drivers will be at Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree the first week of October to learn the risks of trying to text and drive simultaneously.

Yet these students won’t actually be on the road. Instead, they will be participating in a simulation driving exercise courtesy of the Knapp Schenck & Company Insurance Agency.

The Distractology 101 simulation, developed by Arbella Insurance Foundation and UMass Amherst, takes students on a number of driving challenges in one of two simulator machines, housed in a 36-foot long neon-yellow trailer that serves as a mobile classroom.

“It started three years ago and has been touring ne ever since,” said Christine Williamson, Media Relations Consultant for Arbella. “Basically every week or so it goes to a different town … We go through and we can partner with the school. It’s for new drivers, anyone with a permit or someone who has had their license less than three years.”

The simulation takes drivers on a number of courses over the 45-minute demonstration, putting students on blind curves, speed tests, and ultimately the texting and driving scenario.

“It’s the last piece of the course,” Williamson said. “Most people get stuck on the password to their phone [before they crash].”

According to Danny Corcoran, distractology coordinator for Arbella, the program, which is currently in its third year, is meant to educate teen drivers and to get information on how new drivers respond to the road.

“It’s run by two computers while the students are going through simulations. UMass Amherst designed a database, [which tracks] how fast they are driving through the simulations, how many tickets they would received. And what Arbella does in turn is hand this over to UMass Amerhest, which is doing a study,” Corcoran said.

However the statistics available today are already staggering.

According to a release from Arbella, 5,500 people were killed and almost half a million injured in accidents related to distracted driving in 2009. Research also found that text messaging increases the risk of a crash 23 times.

Additionally, distracted driving is particularly dangerous for teens, and in 2012 AAA found that electronics were the number one cause of distraction for teen drivers.

“According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 800,000 drivers are using a hand-held cell phone at any given moment but only 57% recognize it as a serious threat to their safety,” said John Donohue, chairman, president and CEO of the Arbella Insurance Group, and chairman and president of the Arbella Insurance Foundation, in a release. “This lack of awareness and understanding is quite startling. It is our hope that Distractology 101 will continue to tackle this naivety head on and force drivers to once and for all break their mobile phone addiction while on the road.”

Already the simulation has been given to almost 4,000 new drivers, with more on the way as the bus tours Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. This year along, the program has educated 2,500 students.

According to a release, 94% percent of students surveyed said the experience was effective or extremely effective and 75% said they would recommend the experience to a friend.

There are 70 slots for drivers to sign up for this week, Corcoran said, and trainings will last from Monday at 7:30 a.m. till Friday at 3:30 p.m.

To sign up for the free Distractology 101 training, contact Roberta Fleming at Knapp Schenck & Co. Insurance Agency at (781)767-3300.

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