Hopewell teens experience dangers of distracted driving through virtual exercises

HOPEWELL, Va. (WWBT) – DRIVE SMART Virginia, Hopewell Police Department and VCU traveled to Hopewell High School to educate sophomores about the dangers of distracted driving using its smart driving simulator on Wednesday.

This educational program included a virtual reality simulation installed in a full-scale vehicle. The students wore headphones that simulated the dangers teenagers might encounter while behind the wheel, while receiving commands from the instructors.

“We’ll give them things that might distract them, like, for example, turning on the radio, reaching out and grabbing their cell phone to talk with a family member, or reaching into the back seat to grab something,” said DRIVE SMART spokesperson Ben Bruce.

DRIVE SMART created the program years ago in response to the fact that car crashes are the leading killer of teenagers in America.

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“A split second is often enough for them to have an accident or run off the road,” Bruce said.

All week, the organization stopped at several school divisions in central Virginia.

“We had to think outside the box when creating this program,” said Janet Brooking, executive director of DRIVE SMART Virginia. “We wanted it to be an effective way to educate teens in a safe and engaging environment. Our participant surveys have shown that the program works, with 95% of teens surveyed saying they would recommend the program to their peers. »

About 300 students at Hopewell High School also had to steer clear of pedestrians, avoid parked vehicles and obey traffic laws, while wearing glasses simulating impairment.

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“I thought it was going to be easy, but it was actually a lot harder than I thought,” said Hopewell sophomore Gabriel Gore.

DRIVE SMART has also partnered with Powhattan Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Hughes. Eight years ago, while responding to a traffic accident on Midlothian Turnpike, Hughes was pinned to his patrol car by a distracted driver. He spent his time in high school sharing his story with students.

“I arrive on a motorized chair. I come in with no legs and they wonder what happened to me,” Hughes said. “Unfortunately, I lost my right leg at the scene. Once I got to the hospital, they took my left leg.

Hughes says his main goal in partnering with DRIVE SMART Virginia is to reach into the minds of teens before they get their driver’s license so they can stop themselves from being in his shoes or being those who cause it for someone else.

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“The importance here is that everyone sees the reality,” Hughes said. “Just because you have that license doesn’t mean you’re an expert.”

According to DRIVE SMART, tens of thousands of teens have participated in this program over the past eight years thanks to a crucial grant from State Farm.

DRIVE SMART Virginia partners with local community groups such as trauma centers, law enforcement agencies, and victim advocates to expand the educational program by bringing real-world stories to students.

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