MIFFLINBURG — Mifflinburg teacher Joshua Hetrick never learned about distracted driving, when an action pulls the driver’s focus away from driving, while learning to drive in school.
But times have changed. Hetrick said he is emphasizing attentive driving skills in his required Driver’s Education courses for 10th-grade students at Mifflinburg Area High School due to the increasing number of distraction-related fatal vehicle accidents.
“We didn’t really learn that much about distracted driving in my driver’s education course because technology, especially the cell phone, was not as prominent,” said Hetrick.
However, an American Journal of Public Health study linked the increase in U.S. distracted driving-related fatalities after 2005 with the increase of texting.
The number of distracted-related vehicle fatalities jumped from 3,197 in 2014 to 3,477 in 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Hetrick said, “With teenagers now, technology is a large part of their lives. I want them to become more concentrated on the task at hand.”
He added that the inclusion of new exercises with a sense of realism is an effective way to teach his students, especially since students do not physically drive a car in the course.
The school recently brought in driving simulators from Tara Schane of the North Central Highway Safety Network. These simulators allow students to pretend to drive as if they were drunk or trying to text. This is the second year Mifflinburg has used the simulator.
“I did the texting and driving one. I crashed two to three times,” Mifflinburg student Dylan Doebler said. “The simulator really helped.”
Doebler said he once traveled with a friend who texted and drove but didn’t care at the time. “Now, I will tell them to put it down.”
Another ‘realistic’ Driver’s Education exercise is when students had to complete three rounds of timed tasks with increasing levels of distractions.
By the final round, his students had to find letters in descending order on a worksheet while simultaneously talking to their partner, listening to music and texting a friend.
“I wanted to show them that a simple activity can be made difficult by adding distractions,” said Hetrick.
Mifflinburg student Kiara Gilroy said the exercise bamboozled her brain.
“With the texting and driving, it was really stressful,” said Gilroy’s exercise partner, Savannah Boop. “It really slowed your reactions.”
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