Hayden Valcanas, a junior, tries out the Distractology simulation and safe driving program at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School. NASHOBA VALLEY
Hayden Valcanas, a junior, tries out the Distractology simulation and safe driving program at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School. NASHOBA VALLEY VOICE/MINA CORPUZ

GROTON -- It can only take a few seconds to cause a car crash.

Students at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School this week learned how a quick glance at their phone can turn deadly during a driving simulation.

"It was surprising how (suddenly) it can happen," said Hayden Valcanas, a junior who participated.

Distractology is a free driving safety program that simulates real world situations. It addresses distracted driving among young drivers and shows them that multitasking can affect their ability to drive safely.

Up to 20 students a day are expected to participate in the 45-minute program at the high school. It is open to those who have their learner's permit or driver's license.

The simulations take place on a trailer.

The Distractology simulation teaches safe driving at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School. NASHOBA VALLEY VOICE/MINA CORPUZ
The Distractology simulation teaches safe driving at Groton-Dunstable Regional High School. NASHOBA VALLEY VOICE/MINA CORPUZ
Inside are two driver seats that look the kind seen at an arcade. These are more detailed and have seat belts, turn signals, and a radio with an auxiliary cable.

Students are expected to follow speed limits, traffic signs, and directions during the simulations. The program includes scenarios like making an unprotected left turn and watching for pedestrians in a crosswalk.

For distractions, students used their own phones to send a text message, take a picture and caption it on Snapchat, or play a song.

Some swerved to avoid crashing. Others didn't look up in time.

Sirens went off if the participant missed a stop sign. Squealing breaks and crunching metal noises paired with a shattered windshield on the screen simulated a crash.


Advertisement

New England Insurance Group sponsored the driving program's week-long visit to Groton-Dunstable. This is the first time Distractology has come to the high school, said Ted Noyes, an insurance agent who is a partner at the group.

"Every kid has an accident while learning to drive," he said. "Hopefully this helps them learn to be better drivers without getting hurt."

After each scenario, the program told students the safe way to navigate the situation and facts about the number of crashes that occur.

Participants were asked to continue their training online. Upon completion, they can receive a certificate to show to their car insurance company to potentially get a discount. They also received a $15 gas card.

Distractology will be at GDRHS until Friday. It also visits schools in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

The simulation and trailer, which are funded by the Arbella Insurance Foundation, have been around since about 2009. The program and simulation are based on research from UMass Amherst.

Nick Prpich-Romani, a trainer and school manager who ran the simulations, said students have given positive feedback about the program. He said it's an engaging way for them to learn to drive safer.

"They come in expecting to get out of class, have fun, and that it will be easy because they have their licenses," he said. "There's more out there than they know."