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Distractology 101 Attracts More Media Attention

On January 23, two media reports focused on efforts to educate young people about the dangers of texting while driving by introducing them to “Distractology 101,” a program created by the Arbella Insurance Human Performance Laboratory, whose director is Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department Head Don Fisher. The first report was aired on WWLP-TV 22, while the second was a feature article in the Springfield Republican. So far, some 1,800 young people have taken a spin in Distractology 101, a state-of-the-art driving simulator which demonstrates the high risk of distracted driving. Young drivers can access the driving simulator through an Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundation trailer, which has been touring New England for more than a year.

A transcript of the Channel 22 report follows:

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) - Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers. This trend may be closely related to distracted driving.

Handheld phone use and texting while driving is highest among 16 to 24 year-olds. And because of this, one program designed by the University of Massachusetts is trying to educate students about the dangers of distracted driving.

But this program consists of a class you probably won't see at your area school: Distractology 101.

“What we did we just sat in a van and [played] like a video game of us driving. And it had the gas pedal and the break and it was fun,” said Leah Tompkins, a junior at Northampton High School.

The "van" is a state-of-the-art trailer; a simulated car console. The program is sponsored by Arbella Insurance, and last summer it gave 65 Northampton High School students a first-hand look at the dangers of texting behind the wheel.

“We started off driving, they made us take our phones out. We did certain situations where you had to text while not crashing and I crashed every single time I took my phone out,” said Mack Hale of the course. Hale is a junior at Northampton High School. He told 22News the course put into perspective how fast you can lose control of a vehicle, especially if the driver is not paying attention.

The Department of Transportation says distracted driving is responsible for 18 percent of car accident fatalities. And because of this growing trend, Peter Whalen decided to introduce Northampton High to this free program.

“I think it needs to come from the schools so they do it in an organized way. So they are not feeling like they are being preached to; that's why the simulator is such a great tool. You have to make it fun, you're not going to make it through the kids anymore, that's ageless, just by telling them what they should do; you have to educate them through interactive means,” said the president of Whalen Insurance, who helped recruit students for the course.

The trailer travels to schools all around New England and the program is free. So far, 1,800 students have participated and both Tompkins and Hale told 22News they stopped using their phone behind the wheel after taking the course. (February 2012)