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DRIVE SMART Virginia teaches Chesapeake teens the impact of distracted, impaired driving

Students at Indian River High School used a virtual reality simulator to experience road scenarios and how distractions present dangers to drivers.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — "Buckle up, phone down" is the message DRIVE SMART Virginia wants teen drivers to remember. The organization showed new drivers at Indian River High School what it’s like driving distracted and impaired.

Using a virtual reality simulator Monday, students learned the difficulties of driving while using a cell phone. Impaired goggles demonstrated what it feels like to drive while under the influence.

“Your vision was almost you were almost seeing two of everything," Samuel Rhoad, a sophomore at Indian River High School, said.

Ben Bruce, the strategic partnership manager for DRIVE SMART Virginia, said the organization's research shows teens need hands-on experience in order to understand what behaviors can distract them on the road.

“Now that cannabis is legal, we’re seeing an uptick in alcohol and cannabis or alcohol and prescription and non-prescription drugs,” Ben Bruce said.

According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, distracted driving crashes accounted for nearly 18% of all traffic crashes in 2021. Data shows 7% of distracted crashes involved drivers using a cell phone.

“With inexperienced drivers, 16- to 19-year-olds, that is their highest cause of death rate,” he said.

The state saw 42 teen driver deaths in 2021, according to DMV data. Bruce said this effort at Indian River High School comes weeks ahead of the 100 deadliest days for teen drivers.

“34% of all of our traffic injuries throughout the entire year is in that brief window between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” he said.

Bruce hopes the event will help change a teen’s driving behavior to keep themselves and others on the road safe. Some teens said they plan to choose the side of safety.

"That's just obvious, Michael Jernigan, an Indian River High School sophomore, said. "If you want to go on the roads, make sure you're good and safe."

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