SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Saratoga Automobile Museum (SAM) has invested in and installed a powerful tool for combating a major problem on our roads – distracted driving. This problem is particularly rampant among young motorists, but by no means exclusively. Four state-of-the-art distracted driving simulators, funded by donations and the Museum’s board of trustees, are now in operation at the Museum and available for the public to use with a paid admission.
In doing this, the museum has also expanded its mission from educating about automotive history, to a forceful and consistent advocate for safety behind the wheel. “We will be reaching out to schools, calling driver education classes and private driving instructors,” said SAM Educational Director Seth Warden.
At a conference at SAM on Tuesday, May 5, Anthony Ianniello, Chair of SAM’s Board of Trustees, called distracted driving “…nothing less than an epidemic,” leading to more accidents than impaired driving. “We intend to bring in young people here by the bus load to show them what can happen when you don’t pay full attention.” He introduced a panel that included Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo, Congressman Paul Tonko and Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, each of whom spoke of the dangers of driving while distracted.
Congressman Tonko noted the fact that there were 3,100 deaths on our nation’s roads in 2013 that were attributed to distracted driving, and that injuries continue to rise: 424,000 people injured in the same year. The overwhelming majority of these were young drivers. Mayor Yepsen noted the need to reverse these trends, citing her concerns for her three young driving children, ages 19 to 27, and lauded the museum for “taking its educational message to another level.”
The four panelists then each got behind the wheel of the simulators, which resembled an arcade ride with a steering wheel, brake and accelerator pedals, and three video screens that represented front and side windows, as well as rear and side mirrors. The video presented each driver with a myriad of distractions, both in and outside their “vehicle.” Included in the list were cell phones, of course, but also animals, pedestrians, other vehicles, passengers talking to you, unfamiliar roads and much more. Violations are tracked and displayed on the screens in real time.
But the simulation program, called ‘One Simple Decision,’ did more than track traffic mishaps and accidents and keep score. The consequences are also detailed on the video depending on what you experienced. A crash might get you a visit from an EMT unit; a minor fender-bender’s economic outcomes are detailed – from the cost of repairs to insurance increases and points on your license. A vehicular homicide will have law enforcement drag you to court, listen to a victim’s family read an impact statement, and receive a sentence.
After each simulation, a user will complete a survey about their experiences and the data will be compiled to help SAM develop other programs to serve the community.
After his turn on the simulator, Sheriff Zurlo called it “a great educational tool.” He noted that the simulator was extremely easy to control and that young drivers would be able to operate it with ease. “There was always something happening, and it shows the importance of really paying attention to what you are doing.” He said.
Congressman Tonko had similar reactions. “It really showed how quickly things can happen, and how alert you constantly need to be.” He said.
For more information about the Saratoga Auto Museum’s activities and educational programs, visit saratogaautomuseum.org