MOUNTAIN VIEW — Many car accidents are caused by drivers who are distracted. Whether distracted by using a cellphone, eating lunch or handing a passenger a soda, if the driver’s attention is taken from the road for only a few seconds, a deadly crash can occur.
“It’s mostly from cellphone use,” Mountain View Police Department patrolman Donald Crispell said. “It’s the No. 1 killer of teenagers when it comes to driving, especially with all the smartphones out there.”
But he also added that anything can distract a driver, even turning to talk to a passenger.
“They don’t think it will happen to them,” Crispell said.
And he wants to change that mentality by having the first program in Arkansas to actually simulate what could happen in a situation where the driver is distracted.
“I want to open their eyes to how easy it is to not be in control when they think they are,” he said.
With a new program called Th3 La$t M$G, the Mountain View Police Department, the Stone County Office of Emergency Management and the Mountain View Environmental and Spatial Technologies program are collaborating to make Arkansans aware of the dangers of distracted driving.
The odd spelling of The Last MSG is intentional. The idea of the EAST students is that the dollar symbols represent the costly effect of having an accident. The rest is just texting lingo.
A Virtual Driver Interactive trainer will be purchased and be in place in March for demonstrations. The trainer is a simulator that mimics the consequences of distracted driving, Crispell said.
“The system will be housed in a trailer,” Crispell said about the portable system, which will be taken to schools and communities throughout the state.
He said the way it works is that a person sits behind the wheel in the simulator, which has the same feel as a real car, and there are various scenarios that are based on the driver’s actions and the severity of the mock accident, if there is one. The simulator is not a gaming system, and it has actual and functioning components that a car has.
“Using your cellphone to text a number it gives you, it texts a conversation back to you,” he said. “It’ll show you every driving mistake you made. It also has a built-in DWI simulator.”
When Crispell was putting together the plan for The La$t M$G, he approached students in the Mountain View EAST program to help out. The EAST Initiative focuses on student-driven services that can be provided to their communities through the use of the latest technology.
After hearing his pitch, Crispell said the students were eager to help. In addition to coming up with the name for the program, the students are developing a video detailing the program and the consequences of a driver’s actions.
Because the distracted-driver program will cost around $25,000 to get started, Crispell said he is looking for grants and corporate sponsorship.
“Distracted driving is a major concern and the No. 1 killer among teenage drivers,” Mountain View Police Chief Steve Brondhaver wrote in a grant application letter. “We feel this type of program could greatly reduce the amount of cellphone usage by not only teenage drivers but adults as well. Our officers are passionate about the job that they do and are willing to put this program on without pay.”
Staff writer Jeanni Brosius can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mountain View Police Department patrolman Donald Crispell provided the statistics below from his research and experience on distracted driving.
• At any given time, someone is texting, and it’s estimated that 110.4 billion text messages are sent monthly.
• Four out of five drivers drive while distracted.
• Six percent of traffic accidents — which equals 636,000 crashes, 33,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries and 6,000 deaths — are preventable.
• When a teenager is texting and driving, he spends about 10 percent of time outside the proper lane.
• Distracted driving can make a teen’s reactions as slow as that of a 70-year-old driver, or of a person with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 percent.