Frisco High School students experienced impaired and distracted driving using a virtual reality simulator that demonstrated the impact of drugs, alcohol and cell phones.
FHS students were the first to use a new simulator provided by the Frisco Police Department as part of Red Ribbon Week. The Distracted Drive Simulator was donated to police by State Farm through the company’s grant program. The simulator is manufactured by ECA Group and is called an Ultra Series Cockpit Driving Simulator.
The students were allowed to sit in the driver’s seat and wear special goggles that simulate different levels of alcohol or drug impairment. The students then attempted to “drive” their car on the simulated computer program without hitting another car or crashing into guard rails. Another program available on the simulator has students attempt to text and drive without having an accident. While not drug use, it is a growing concern as texting can cause drivers to lose focus and have accidents.
The experience was eye-opening to many who thought they could outsmart the simulator.
One young man finished his turn on the simulator and was boasting a bit that he can text and drive. “I’m good at it,” he said. But on the simulator he sideswiped a guard rail. School Resource Officer Sarah Arizpe cautioned him that as a driver under the age of 18, he has restrictions on his license that prevent him from driving while using a wireless device, except in case of emergency. The student said he had been unaware that it was against the law for him to use his phone and drive at the same time.
Another young woman from Frisco High said she is preparing to take driving lessons in the coming months. Her attempt at simulated texting and driving had a more serious result than hitting a guard rail. “I crashed into another car,” Christina Cui said.
Students enjoyed the simulator activity, but were also a bit surprised by their inability to overcome the imposed “drunken state” that the goggles put them in. One young man attempted to walk a straight line while wearing them and had to reach out and grab Arizpe to keep from falling. Arizpe explained that the simulator program can demonstrate different levels of alcohol consumption both on foot and behind the wheel.
The simulator is new to the Frisco Police Department. Several campuses have expressed interest in bringing it to other FISD students, Arizpe said.
“Getting your driver’s license is an exciting and big step for high school age kids," said Deputy Chief Greg Ward of the Frisco PD, who oversees the school resource officers. "It is important that they have a good understanding of the responsibilities that comes with driving. Education and the use of a driving simulator will help new drivers understand how distracted driving affects their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. It is important that our new drivers learn on a simulator as opposed to the potential serious consequences when operating a real vehicle."
Red Ribbon Week, a program that has been in place nationally since the 1980s to educate and inform students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and the importance of good choices, is observed annually in October by Frisco ISD. Counselors and PTA volunteers work together to provide activities and programs that will hopefully reach kids no matter what grade level they are.
Pearson Middle School used the lunch period as a chance for kids to participate in a quiz-style game. Students who dressed up were given a ticket stub and then the Student Resource Officer drew tickets and called students down to participate in the quiz. Students who correctly answered the questions won fun prizes.
Dressing up and talking about making good choices and not accepting strange pills or alcohol from friends or strangers is a common lesson most elementary students receive.
At Bledsoe Elementary, one of the fun themes of the week was Mustache Day. Children who wanted to participate were allowed to draw mustaches on their faces or to wear silly stick-on costume mustaches. When several kindergartners were asked what the idea of “We mustache you to make good choices” meant, one young girl explained, “You know, sometimes there are these things that look like candy but they are not. They may make you pass out.”
Other schools had days where students wore red or dressed up to represent different decades, such as the ‘50s or the ’80s, or dressed as superheroes, book characters or twins.
Why dress up, play games and create simulations to educate kids against drug use? The experience of Red Ribbon Week activities may drive home a lesson that one day saves a life, said Brenda Berry, FISD director of Guidance and Counseling.