Virtual reality program to teach Va. teens about distracted driving

WASHINGTON — A virtual reality simulator is coming to a Northern Virginia high school to teach students about the effects of distracted driving.

Car crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for U.S. teenagers — about six die every day.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 40 percent of young drivers in the U.S. text or email while driving.

The nonprofit Drive Smart Virginia wants to change that with an interactive program coming to W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax on Tuesday.

The highlight is a virtual reality simulator inside a full-sized Chevy Silverado pickup truck equipped with special sensors. Students wear virtual reality goggles while operating the pedals and steering wheel — all while texting.

“It lets the participant have a realistic driving experience,” said Janet Brooking, Drive Smart Virginia’s executive director.

The teenagers will attempt to complete a driving course.

“They absolutely run into things,” Brooking said. “They run into cars, animals, people. It’s virtual reality, but it’s very realistic like our roadways would be. I think they are very surprised at how vulnerable they are.”

Other exercises will test the young drivers’ abilities to navigate traffic cones while riding tricycles and texting. Students will also attempt to play basketball with impaired driving goggles, provided by the Fairfax County Police Department.

About 300 Woodson High School students are expected to participate. “In the two-and-a-half years that we’ve had this program, we’ve reached 30,000 students and 6,000 adults,” Brooking said.

The program will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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