Clear, sunny skies, flat terrain. Mitch is experiencing the perfect driving weather. But all of a sudden, a speeding blue car zips into his lane, driving towards him head-on. Crash! The car collides into Mitch's...and the exercise is over.
If this were real life, perhaps Mitch, a Kinnelon High School sophomore, would be dead or at least seriously injured. But it is simulated exercises like the one Mitch was able to test in a Pennsylvania DUI RV in the parking lot of the high school Tuesday that help prepare young drivers for obstacles they were not even aware of.
The simulator was brought to the high school for two days on Tuesday and Wednesday by the Kinnelon High School Home and School Association, KAMELOT and the Kinnelon Police Department so that every sophomore student who is or will be taking driver's education this year will have the opportunity to test drive. As each took turns at the wheel, students began their simulation by turning the ignition, stepping on the gas and using simulated side mirrors as one would in a real-life vehicle.
Priscilla Adams, a student counselor at the high school, said for many sophomores, this was their first opportunity to experience the realistic situations that can occur while driving. The operator of the simulator, Mike Martin, is able to not only activate unexpected objects on the simulation, but also weather patterns, such as rain or snow, which can also impair driving.
Adams said the students are surprised to learn what natural obstacles face drivers in addition to other cars or pedestrians on roadways. Kinnelon Police Lt. John Schwartz said he could see the surprise on their faces.
"You can see the awakenings," he said. "Each and every one who goes through goes, 'Woa! This is harder than I thought.'"
But the simulator is not designed to surprise the students as much as it is to teach them about all the things they may think they know but do not about driving.
"I think the focus, at this age, is to make them aware of their surroundings and for them to not be distracted by extraneous stuff," said Robin Caiazzo, a KAMELOT volunteer. KAMELOT also sponsored the Safety Bug earlier this year.
While groups of students took turns in the driving simulator, Kinnelon Police Ptl. Sean Patalita gave presentations to students about the dangers of driving, especially while drunk, during health classes.