Wilton students get behind virtual wheel to learn real-life skills

Katie McMorris waited at an intersection hoping to make a left turn across two lanes of traffic. With a large truck obstructing her view, she slowly proceeded — then she was hit by a car in oncoming traffic.
Fortunately, the accident was not real. The scenario was part of Distractology, a simulated road navigation experience offered at Wilton High School earlier this month to teach new drivers the dangers of being distracted behind the wheel.
McMorris, a sophomore who got her permit in March, said the experience taught her the dangers of multitasking while driving.
“I learned I can’t multitask at all,” she said. “Every time I tried I swerved.”
Nick Prpich, who was running the program that’s funded by Arbella Insurance, said many students have similar reactions. To make things realistic, he said he encourages students to drive as if they weren’t being watched.
“We ask them what do you normally do when you drive?” Prpich said.
A variety of scenarios are presented to students as they use the simulator. They are asked to use their phone while driving, texting and sometimes even asked to eat or drink.
“They often crash that way, too,” Prpich said. “Drinking and eating are also distractions.”
McMorris said she didn’t originally think it was as difficult to multitask while driving. However, after the simulation she saw how difficult it was. She said the experience could steer young drivers away from starting bad habits.
“Instead of trying it out for the first time while they’re driving they try it out here,” McMorris said. “It’ll show them they shouldn’t be doing it.”
Thomas Costello, a senior who has been driving for two years, said it was a little more challenging than real life. He said while the program exaggerated real-life scenarios, it still taught him a lesson.
“You have to take your time and be safe,” Costello said.
The experience could also be a benefit to younger drivers, he said.
“[Drivers] have to be aware of their actions and how it could affect others as well as themselves,” Costello said.
For Prpich, the program’s focus is to help put better drivers on the road and stop bad habits early.
“I’ve seen a lot of bad drivers,” Prpich said. “I think the benefit is helping drivers to become much better.”