Student drivers experience real-life distractions in simulator

| Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, 2:05 p.m.

A backseat driver can be a real distraction, as most motorists will attest.

But soon-to-be drivers at Steel Valley High School on Monday who participated in a computerized driving simulator learned that having 15 of their classmates behind them was nothing compared to coping with the delayed reaction effects of alcohol.

Crowded into a trailer housing the Allegheny County Alcohol Highway Safety Program's DUI Safety SIMulator, students experienced firsthand the multisensory experience of driving. The challenge was one most students could handle reasonably well until the simulated delay effects of alcohol were added to the mix.

“You guys are setting me up for failure,” remarked 15-year-old Ulysses Williams as he struggled to keep the car on the road while dealing with the virtual effect of two drinks.

There were gasps and remarks from the rear like, “He's driving in the wrong lane,” as Williams narrowly escaped a collision with another car, almost hit a dog and followed a school bus at a dangerously high speed before his driving simulation ended badly at the four-drink level.

“It was easy except for when I was drinking,” said Williams, who is studying for a learner's permit.

The simulator creates a realistic driving experience in rural and urban conditions. Students belt themselves into a real car seat before shifting into drive and maneuvering through the course, which is projected before them with front, side and mirror views all included.

From the back of the training trailer, event coordinator Mike Martin from the Pennsylvania DUI Association controls the simulator program from a computer while giving the students tips on safe motoring.

“All young drivers tend to look just beyond the hood of the car,” he said. “You better look down the road.”

His counterpart, Pamela Wahal from the Fifth Judicial District of Pennsylvania Alcohol Highway Safety program, takes her position near the front of the trailer by the driver's seat and offers similar cautionary tips to students.

“You need to watch the road signs,” she told one student. “You need to pay attention.”

The event was sponsored by the Steel Valley Students Against Destructive Decisions group and Allegheny County Pre-Trial Services.

SADD coordinator and teacher Beth McCallister said Monday's exercise was offered to sophomores “because they either have their permits or will be getting their permits soon.”

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or

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