Distracted driving sessions test skills, yield safety insight

As Meridian Community College freshman Austin Franklin walked by the student life center, he stopped to read a chalkboard.

But it was what was inside the Quave Student Center that grabbed the Meridian resident’s attention. MCC Campus Life hosted Virtual Driving Simulations thanks to help from the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT).

This session marks the second year Campus Life hosted this learning-outside-the classroom session. “We do this to raise awareness for college students of the consequences of distracted driving,” said LeAnne Motes, campus life coordinator.

Franklin and other MCC students got behind the “wheel” in the Virtual Distracted/Impaired Driving Simulator. The device allows participants a first-person account of the real-life consequences of distracted or impaired driving. Participants maneuver their virtual vehicle through various on-screen scenarios while text messaging with the computer’s program.

“It was very interesting. It made me aware of texting and driving and how unsafe it is,” Franklin said. Another student, Anthony Watts, 18, of Preston, also participated in the distracted driving simulation. “It only takes a quick second for something to go wrong,” Watts said after his turn behind the wheel.

Greg Smith, a safety educator with MDOT, manned another teaching tool – the Seat Belt Convincer – where a gravity-fed carriage stops abruptly after going 5 miles per hour. It allows riders to experience the force generated in a low-speed collision. “People don’t realize that 5 miles an hour can cause damage if you’re not restrained properly,” Smith said.

“We do need reminders such as this,” Motes said.

The students also wore the trademark Fatal Vision Goggles that visually demonstrate the various levels of impairments and the dangers of impaired driving. While wearing the lens, participants tried to walk a straight line, toss oversized rings and throw bean bags into a cone.

Motes said more than 100 students took part in this safety event.