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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne police school resource officer Liza Thomas texts while driving during simulation training at an AAA office Monday. The results were jarring.

Simulator shows crushing reality of distracted driving

School resource officers within the Fort Wayne Police Department were trained on a new tool they hope can help deter teens from texting while driving.

Four officers were at the AAA office near Coliseum Boulevard on Monday, learning how to use the three-screen simulator that features a steering wheel, a gas pedal and a brake pedal.

Officers said they hope to use the simulator in driver training classes, at school assemblies and during school lunch periods to show students what can happen if they send text messages while driving.

“The target age group for this is between 13 and 16 years of age, which I would not have expected,” officer Liza Thomas said before trying out the simulator.

Once inside the simulator, Thomas was driving well and following traffic laws.

Then she was asked to text a simple message: “Meet me at the library in 10 minutes.”

In attempting to send the message and “drive” the simulator, she hit a young girl on a bicycle.

“We know a two-second distraction increases your chances of being in a crash by 200 percent,” said Nick Jarmusz, community outreach and safety representative with AAA.

Capt. Kevin Corey, who oversees the five resources officers, said Fort Wayne will be one of the first cities to utilize the simulator.

“We want to get this to them so they’re aware that when they’re driving they need to have their eyes on the road,” he said.

The simulator also can serve another purpose, Jarmusz said.

“It’s a great interactive tool, it’s fun and it’s a great in for the officers to talk to students about this,” he said. “It’s amazing how quickly they go from having no problems, and when they pull out their cellphones they start crossing the centerline and they may start speeding without evening knowing it.”

A ban on texting while driving took effect in Indiana in July, and violators are subject to a $500 fine. The law was an expansion from 2009 when lawmakers made it illegal for drivers younger than 18 to text and drive.

There were nearly 5,500 fatalities in crashes involving a distracted driver, federal officials report.