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WHS focuses on distracted driving

Storn Olson, driving awareness instructor with the Arrive Alive Tour, watches while WHS senior Anna Koepsell completes a drunk driving simulation. (Alyson Buschena/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON -- Seniors and juniors at Worthington High School (WHS) experienced the effects of texting while driving and drunk driving Monday through an Arrive Alive simulator.

Funded through a $2,500 State Farm grant, UNITE Arrive Alive simulates the effects of distracted driving -- specifically texting while driving and drunk driving.

"State Farm does a lot of community involvement and offered this grant" said Jessica Noble, an agent with State Farm Insurance.

Noble had contacted WHS to see if there was a need to use the funds and was put in contact with school counselor Jan Larson.

"She said that the simulator was something she was interested in, but didn't have the funding for," Noble said.

After getting WHS approval, Noble helped apply for the grant that was then awarded to WHS.

"(Noble) started this way last fall and we were finally able to get this in," said WHS principal Paul Karelis said, who explained the decision was made to focus on students mostly likely to already have their driver's license. "We're going to try to put as many juniors and seniors through the simulator as possible so that they can experience the drunk driving or the distracted driving with texting as they are driving down the road."

WHS has had students in fatal car accidents due to texting while driving and drunk driving, and Karelis said preventing future accidents is the school's goal.

"If we can save one life in this whole process, I think it's a very positive thing," he said. "It makes kids think twice while they are driving and texting, and we hope that it will cut down on possible accidents in the future."

For the event, UNITE uses a real car with a disconnected battery and connects sensors to the steering wheel, gas pedal and break. Students are given the option of the distracted driving or the drunken driving simulation.

The driver is given a 180-degree virtual headset that allows them to see the road ahead of them, as well as virtual rearview mirror and the illusion of passing-by scenery out the windows.

The simulation contains basic driving scenarios including merging cars, pedestrians and children running out into the street. The simulated drive is also shown on a large TV screen outside of the car so other students can see how their peer is doing.

"I thought it would be not so bad, but I couldn't stay in the lane," senior Anna Koepsell said after completing the drunken driving simulation.

Once drivers completes the simulations, they review their results with Storn Olson, a driving awareness instructor with the Arrive Alive Tour.

"Texting while driving is completely against the law here in the great state of Minnesota, and that means if you have the phone in your hand, you risk getting pulled over and the ticket is not cheap -- about $300," Olson said.

The Arrive Alive Tour visits between 200 to 250 schools annually across the U.S.

"We go to colleges, high schools and sometimes military installations - sometimes now auto shows and state fairs," Olson added.

Helping support the project is WHS's Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). SADD President Whitney Coriolan said that April is Distracted Driving Month, noting that SADD will be hosting additional events through the month to raise awareness.

"Most people say that the main thing that curbs people isn't necessary the laws, but the education," Olson said, adding that the WHS students had been good to work with. "Most of the kids at this school in particular don't seem to be in the habit of texting and driving, which is great."

Alyson Buschena
Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at
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