Saturday, February 24, 2018
Public safety

A driving simulator that's perfect for millennials, and you, too

SPRING HILL — I was on the road maybe five seconds before I hit the deer.

It went flying, and I was pulled over by a police officer.

Fortunately, I didn't actually hit a deer. I was operating AAA's distracted driving simulator at the Hernando County Tax Collector's Office in Spring Hill on Thursday. Part of a statewide tour, the simulator, which looks like a first-person video game, gives drivers a chance to experience what it's like to drive while intoxicated or distracted by a phone.

In the deer incident, I was the drunken driver. I thought it would stop with the arrest, but the simulator took me through the whole miserable process of a drunken driving arrest.

I was put in a holding cell and taken to court. The judge sentenced me to three years' probation, a one-year driver's license suspension and a $5,000 fine.

And as if I wasn't blushing hard enough at the laughter from the small crowd watching me at the wheel, the simulator took me to a job interview, where I was told the company would need a copy of my driving record.

"Will that be a problem for you?" the interview lady asked.

I knew it was fake, but my stomach still dropped.

"It's an eye-opener, I'll tell you that," said Robert Bulson, 80.

Bulson's fate? Hitting a wall while turning onto the interstate.

I decided to give the distracted driving a try. After all, I am a millennial. We're the generation of narcissism, entitlement and texting while driving.

In the simulation, I played a girl named Morgan picking up someone's sister. And this girl was demanding. She asked me to call and text her brother, at which point I would normally have thrown her my phone and told her to do it herself. But I realized I was getting angry at a fake person, so I typed the texts.

I had just finished sending one when I looked up and saw, too late, a red light. The car I rear-ended didn't stand a chance against my recklessness. Millennials, am I right?

More numbers flashed across the screen: a $384 ticket, $2,100 in damages, almost a $2,700 insurance premium increase.

I would've been able to walk away with at least some of my dignity had Angelica Rivera and her mom, Lydia, not shown up. Angelica, 19, made it through the distracted driving route with no crashes, typing out texts at red lights and stop signs.

It seems as if mom's training paid off. Lydia said she wouldn't let Angelica get her license until she was well over 17 and had spent 15 to 20 hours a week practicing behind the wheel.

"A car is a weapon," she said.

Mom, if you're reading this, I'm sorry. Just know that if I hit a deer in real life, it won't be from distracted driving.

I learned my lesson.

Kathryn Varn can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6114. Follow @kathrynvarn on Twitter.

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