Stewarts Creek High School senior Angel Hollenbeck “flipped out” when she drove a simulator designed to show what happens with distracted driving.
Hollenbeck was one of several Stewarts Creek High Schools students who tested the simulator for distracted and impaired driving Tuesday during an exercise sponsored by the Rutherford County Sheriff’s School Resource Officer Division.
SRO Dustin Cox said Hollenbeck’s simulator showed her hitting a dog and crashing, prompting her to become upset. Another girl put her head in her hands while using the simulator.
Hollenbeck said the simulator directed her to text a passenger’s employer because the employee was late to work. She refused to text and drive the simulator simultaneously.
“This helped me to know where I’m going,” said Hollenbeck, 18, who plans to get her driver’s license soon.
After learning Rutherford County ranks fourth in the state for crashes of drivers ages 15 to 24, the SROs decided to tackle the problem. They applied for a grant from the Governor’s Highway Safety Office to purchase two simulators to demonstrate for students the impact of distracted and impaired driving. GHSO awarded the $27,000 grant to buy the simulators, a golf cart and goggles to reflect driving under the influence of alcohol.
Cox said the simulator gives students a realistic view of being impaired or distracted while driving.
Sheriff Robert Arnold is a former SRO who supports this educational program.
“One teen who dies in a traffic crash is one too many,” Arnold said. “The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office and especially the SRO Division are committed to reducing the number of traffic fatalities of young drivers through this educational tools provided by the Governor’s Highway Safety Office. We hope to meet our goal through providing the simulator training to every high school student at schools and community events.”
GHSO Law Enforcement Liaison Tony Burnett said GHSO partners with the Sheriff’s Office to make a difference in the driving behaviors of teens and younger drivers.
“Our vision and our goals are to save lives and reduce crashes,” Burnett said. “Our job is to change the behavior by using these tools. We’ll never know what lives we save.”
Burnett watched Hollenbeck and senior Matthew Shields, 18, as they practiced on the simulator.
Shields said he has tried before to text and drive without much success. While operating the simulator and texting, “I ran into an ambulance.” The simulator advised him the average amount of cost to repair the car and the increase in insurance costs.
“It was a lot of money,” Shields said. “It showed me how horrible I was at texting and driving. I don’t text and drive.”
Principal Clark Harrell was amazed at how realistic the simulator reflected virtual driving. He believes the simulator will help students feel more secure when driving.
“Ultimately, it’s all about their safety for us,” Harrell said.
SRO Ward Bates said the purpose of the simulator is to show it’s difficult to drive and text at the same time.
SRO Cox said he hopes juniors and seniors will use the simulator before prom to realistically show the impact of driving impaired or distracted.
“I hope to get the message to be more aware of your driving and others driving as well,” Cox said.