Burlington Township High School students get virtual driving lesson

Teenagers learned dangers of drinking, texting while driving through simulator

Burlington Township High School sophomore Maria Ricaurtie, 16, participates in a driving simulation Tuesday, May 1. The Arrive Alive Tour event was aimed at teaching students about the dangers of drunk driving and texting behind the wheel.

Burlington Township High School students took turns navigating a virtual obstacle course Tuesday, May 1, meant to teach them the dangers of drunk and distracted driving.

The exercise featured a real car in the school’s parking lot and a pair of virtual reality goggles. Bluetooth sensors on the steering wheel and gas and brake pedals were used to connect what the students were doing to a digital simulation.

“They love it because it’s like a video game,” said Burlington Township Police Officer Floyd Hazzard, who organized the event.

Students who picked the drunk driving mode had their steering control delayed to mimic the delayed reactions caused by alcohol.

Other students were asked to peek at their phones under the goggles and send texts or check social media accounts while driving in the game.

“I had my phone in my hand and on the steering wheel, and that was just nearly impossible,” said sophomore M’kinze McRay, 16. “It was hard to look at the road and then look down at my phone.

“I ended up crashing into a wall,” she added.

Many of the students who participated in the exercise have just started driving or are preparing to get their license.

Hazzard, who serves as the high school’s resource officer, said he hopes the teenagers will remember the simulator next time they are on the road.

“They’re going to pull out their phone when they feel that they’re phone is going off,” he said. “This is where we need to stop that before they have an accident (or) before they have a ticket.”

“You’re seeing more and more distracted driving with this age group — not so much driving impaired,” Hazzard added.

Several students said the simulator was difficult and helped them realize the potential consequences of drunk driving and texting behind the wheel.

“It’s really hard,” said 10th-grade student Kamryn Leinheiser, 15. “I crashed a lot.”

“I think it’s a really good idea to have kids go in there and actually witness what it’s like to be intoxicated or be texting,” she added. “You don’t really realize how hard it is until you actually try.”

Leinheiser, McRay and fellow sophomore Julie Au, also 15, are all taking driver’s education classes at BTHS.

“You could get a little tense in there because you don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Au said about her experience in the simulator.

The simulator was set up by UNITE’s Arrive Alive Tour, which brings the program to schools around the country. It was funded by a grant from the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Hazzard said.