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Kadner: Teens to get high-tech driving lesson

A program Hillcrest High School Country Club Hills will use high-tech simulators show students effects distracted driving.  |

A program at Hillcrest High School in Country Club Hills will use high-tech simulators to show students the effects of distracted driving. | Supplied photo

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Updated: April 14, 2013 6:28AM



A multimillion-dollar, high-tech, six-hour program on the dangers of distracted driving is coming to Hillcrest High School on Monday.

“Be advised this is not just some pat-on-the-head lecture that tells students it would be nice if they didn’t text and drive,” the company’s website warns.

After a video and a graphic lecture from someone whose life has been impacted by distracted driving, students at the Country Club Hills school will take turns during gym class using two driving simulators.

The simulators not only will measure their reaction time while texting and using cellphones but create video images of their real-time response and potential accidents for their classmates to see.

The program created by Kramer International (which claims to be the world leader in educational simulation events) is a division of the company’s Save a Life Tour, which in the past has included drunken driving programs for colleges and schools.

The company claims the U.S. Defense Department as one of its clients and provides programs at all the nation’s military bases.

A spokesman said this is the first time the distracted driving program will be offered at an Illinois school.

Dave Fandrich, an account executive for the company, said the day will begin with a student assembly. For the rest of the day, Hillcrest Principal Renee Simms said, students during gym class will take turns in the two simulators.

Fandrich said the simulators are equipped with a steering wheel, gear shift lever, video screen windshield and iPhone. Students will be asked to respond to text messages on the iPhone as they drive and images of traffic and pedestrians appear on the video screen.

“The simulators will record how they swerve in traffic while responding to a message and how their response time slows,” Fandrich said.

On a giant, 10-by-12-foot projection screen set up between the two simulators, students and other interested participants can watch what the “drivers” see and through various camera angles watch how the drivers react.

“It may take some students up to two or three minutes to run over a pedestrian or get in a crash,” Fandrich said. “Typically, it’s about a minute and a half before a student is in a wreck.

“But the neat thing is that all the other students who aren’t in the simulators see just what the drivers see and how they react.”

Simms said she places an emphasis on driving safety at Hillcrest.

“We’ve participated with AT&T in a ‘Don’t Text And Drive’ program, so although this is a new program, learning about distracted driving is nothing new for our students,” she said. “We feel it’s important for them to not text and drive, not only for their own safety but for the safety of others.”

At the end of the school year, Simms said, a wrecked car is brought to Hillcrest, students act as accident victims and local police and fire personnel respond to the scene of a “crash.”

Using a grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation, students put together a distracted driving poster campaign, and businesses have agreed to display their artwork, she said.

Fandrich said the cost of the high-tech distracted driving program is $3,500 a day, and the cost of the company’s drunken driving program is $5,500.

“We’ve had a couple of incidents here at Hillcrest in the last few years,” Simms said. “One student wrapped his car around a pole and died.

“So the way I look at it, is if we can save the life of one of our students or one other person who might have been in an accident involving a student, it would have been worth the cost.”

Simms said she thinks the program is especially needed by sophomores going through driver’s training and seniors who will soon be going to prom night.

The Save A Life Tour program ends with the display of an actual casket “to drive home the permanent reminder of the life-changing impact of distracted driving,” Fandrich said. “It’s sounds ghoulish, but I can tell you from personal experience that the image of that casket will have a lasting impact on those students.”

You can see a brief video about the company’s campaigns to discourage distracted driving and drunken driving by visiting its website at savealifetour.com.

According to the company, while 90 percent of teenagers claim they have never driven under the influence of alcohol, nine out of 10 say they have used a cellphone while driving.

Distracted driving is now the No. 1 killer of teens in the country and results in about 500,000 deaths or injuries every year to people of all age groups, according to the video.

“To put it in perspective,” the narrator states, “... that’s like six jet airliners filled with passengers crashing every day.”

The video doesn’t site a source for its statistics, but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control about 5,400 people are killed each year and 448,000 are injured in accidents involving distracted driving.

Those distractions include eating, drinking, grooming, listening to the radio and daydreaming among others, along with cellphone use.

The CDC, however, attributes about 1,000 deaths and 24,000 injuries each year to motorists who were using a cellphone at the time of an accident.

Whatever numbers you want to look at, they’re staggering.

If a car simulator and high-tech gadgetry can get that message out to teenagers, it would be worth the time away from gym class for a day.



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