Distractology 101 Informs Students of the Dangers of Distracted Driving


Student uses the Distractology 101 simulator.

Aurora Hebner

Student uses the Distractology 101 simulator.
Distracted driving has become such a problem in the United States–over 500,000 accidents a year being caused by it–that some states have made it an offense to use your phone behind the wheel.  Walpole has seen distracted driving as such an issue that last spring, school resource officer Timothy Songin introduced the idea of Distractology 101 coming to Walpole High School.  As seen on The Today Show, Distractology 101 is a distraction simulator that lasts about a half hour. Principal Stephen Imbusch describes the course as a beneficial program that “will not do damage, but will show students the potential for danger while driving.” Imbusch emphasizes that texting is a major problem and “students don’t see it as a distraction, they see it as a way of communication, and it has to stop.” The course’s website (DistractU.com) says that “new drivers will get a firsthand experience of how distractions interfere with their ability to react on the road, see hidden hazards and avoid accidents.”
The course is sponsored by Norwell and Norwell Insurance Company and Arbella Insurance Group’s Charitable Foundation and costs nothing for the school. This program started two years ago when Arbella’s CEO John Donahue watched a speech by Dr. Fisher of UMass Amherst who did a study on distracted driving, after which the two decided to work together on this helpful simulator.
Participants of Distractoloy 101 who have car insurance with Arbella receive a reduction in their premium; everyone who participates receives a fifteen dollar gas car to any Mobil station and the extended knowledge of distracted. In late September, students were able to allot time in their schedules to participate in the Distractology program for the week of October 10th. During or after school, students with their permit or license came out to the course’s trailer instructed by Arbella’s Topher Paone to drive the simulated car through obstacles such as crosswalks, traffic lights and stop signs in which their view was stunted by other cars. One of the obstacles involved the use of the student’s cell phone to demonstrate how dangerous texting while driving is–most students rear-end the car in front of them during this particular activity. Participants, juniors Francesca Nardelli and Alex Marcinkowski say that the course was definitely a helpful program to bring to Walpole High. Nardelli, a licensed driver, says that it will definitely change the way she drives because “it pointed out situations that people overlook and wouldn’t expect to happen.” The students say they would certainly recommend the course to other students because “there is nothing to lose and you can get a free gas card!”
DistractU.com provides students with information, such as someone talking on the phone –handheld or hands-free–shows the same slowed reaction times as someone with a blood alcohol level of .08, to persuade students to put down their phones or other distractions and focus on the road. The makers of the website also came up with their own “Distractology Dictionary” containing words such as “smerge” (defined as a lethal combination of swerving and merging while driving, usually caused by being distracted) and “gabcident” (what typically happens when you pay more attention to your cell phone than the road). Another feature of the website is the Distract-O-Meter, which demonstrates how simple it is to become distracted while driving and in everyday activities through videos, facts, and frequently asked questions. Finally, DistractU.com provides a pledge, signing The Pledge promises that a student will not text, answer or make calls while driving, will keep his or her eyes on the road and hands on the wheel and will be good driving role model for friends and family
Mr. Imbusch hopes that this course will make students “think twice before taking out phones or other distractions. Driving is easy, it is putting all other things aside while driving that becomes difficult.” When asked if the program is going to be annual at the high school, Mr. Imbusch said “it’s not something that will come our way all the time, but if we are given the opportunity it’s not something we are going to turn down.” Junior Alex Marcinkowski completely supports the idea of bringing Distractology 101 back to Walpole next year, Marcinkowski expresses that “the course would be helpful to the underclassmen for when they receive their permits and licenses.”