Simulator gives virtual reality perspective of distracted driving

Jul 21, 2016

We’ve heard it all before: texting and driving is dangerous. But what about taking selfies when you’re behind the wheel or playing Pokemon Go? Various agencies are working together to remind drivers that any type of multitasking while driving can be a fatal mistake.

AAA Western and Central New York, AT&T, the Erie County clerk and the State Police have teamed up to educate Canalside visitors about the dangers of distracted driving. Using a virtual reality simulator, people immersed themselves in a scenario where they are drivers who are texting. The video shows the car almost hitting pedestrians, swerving into other lanes and getting into a fatal crash.

State Police Major Steven Nigrelli, here demonstrating the simulator, says texting isn't the only distraction for drivers these days.
Credit Waverly Colville

The virtual reality simulator is part of AT&T’s safe driving campaign “It Can Wait.” The unit was on the Canalside boardwalk Wednesday and will be at the Erie County Fair in August.

State Police Major Steven Nigrelli said texting is not the only distraction these days.

“In the last couple years, we’ve seen a lot more of the selfie videos, a lot more smartphone usage,” Major Nigrelli said. “This is not bashing smartphones. There’s a time and a place for them but there’s no call, text, tweet, post, selfie, [or] app that’s worth your life or someone else’s.”

Benjamin Roberts, AT&T director of public affairs, said the “It Can Wait” campaign has grown to address other distractions.

“It started off with texting and driving but since then, we’ve seen a huge uptick in issues such as tweeting, video chatting and now we’re even seeing things like Pokemon Go with drivers,” Roberts said. “It’s causing deaths. We also see other issues such as video chatting becoming an issue behind the wheel, things that you would never imagine.”

About 660,000 people are using a smartphone and driving at any given moment nationally.

“That 660,000 chances of a fatality occurring,” Major Nigrelli said.

Nine people die from distracted driving per day nationwide. To help distracted drivers put down their phones, AT&T has developed a free app that sends an automatic reply to anyone who calls or texts that the recipient is driving and cannot reply right away.