Through driver’s education, teenagers drivers learn about the dangers of texting while behind the wheel.

They learn about the importance of keeping their eyes on the road and obeying all driving rules.

But if they aren’t paying attention or following the rules, a variety of consequences could happen, including them or someone else being hurt or killed.

That’s why, for the second straight year, Seymour Police Department had Seymour High School students participate in the Rule the Road teen driving event.

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The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute program, which is made possible through a grant from State Farm Insurance, is designed to supplement driver’s education and the students’ driving knowledge by providing driving experiences that they have yet to encounter.

In a building at Freeman Municipal Airport on Thursday, 58 students participated in a distraction/texting simulator. Outside, they were behind the wheel and sat in the passenger seat of a police car for four exercises — skid car, which puts them into a controlled skid; reaction time/decision-making; obstacle course with overcorrecting/backing up; and blind spot.

Seymour Police Department Capt. Carl Lamb said the goal is to be proactive and reduce the number of accidents involving teenage drivers.

“In 2013, in Seymour alone, there were 120 accidents involving drivers between the ages of 15 and 18,” Lamb said. “In 2014, the total number of traffic accidents involving those drivers between the ages of 15 and 18 dropped by 14 percent, so each year, we want to reduce that as much as we can.”

At least 50 Seymour students have been involved in the program each year, and Lamb said only a handful of Thursday’s participants were involved both years. He said they are trying to reach out to as many students as possible.

Representatives with the justice institute conducted the simulator exercise. That involved a student sitting behind three computer screens and a small steering wheel with brake and accelerator pedals. The module had them driving either through a city environment or on a rural road. At certain points, the student was asked to get out a cellphone and text or take a selfie to see how those actions are distracting.

They had five minutes to make it all the way through, but the game ended if they wrecked or broke a traffic law.

When senior Austin Barr did the exercise, he drove through the city.

“There was a lot going on,” he said. “There were cars pulling out. There’s pedestrians walking, mopeds. Everything is going on all at once, and (the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute representative) is sitting there trying to tell us to text and pay attention to other stuff.”

It helped him realize the dangers of texting while driving.

“You lost track of what you were doing there for a second,” he said. “You’re not paying attention, and cars pull out and you don’t see them, so you hit them.”

Barr said the simulator offered a good learning experience.

“It’ll help you pay more attention,” he said. “But in this, it seems like everything is out to get you, so it’s going to make it easier when you go out because, hopefully, people aren’t going to make those mistakes out on the real road. Other people make mistakes, and if you’re making that same mistake, that’s when an accident will happen.”

Lamb said students like the simulator because it’s practical.

“There’s a big issue with adults and kids using their cellphone while driving, which obviously we don’t want that to happen,” he said. “This just really shows them by being that distracted, this is what’s going to happen. It’s not if you have a wreck, it’s going to be when. So this really brings that to light without having the actual accident on the street.”

The obstacle course involved students making sharp turns and driving at various speeds through water, mud and loose gravel. That helped them get a feel for how the car handles.

First, a police officer drove through the course to let the students know what they were going to do when they were behind the wheel.

Junior Seth Ragon said it was an interesting experience.

“(The officer) kind of left it up to us once we got in there,” Ragon said. “He just told us, ‘Slow down,’ and he kind of gave us pointers on when to turn and where to go and how far to turn out and cut back in.”

He said it was good to experience that in a controlled environment.

“It was really fun because it’s not really an everyday thing that you do while you’re driving,” Ragon said. “I think it’s good to experience it because sometimes you might have that scenario in real-life driving situations, so it’s good to have some practice to be ready for it.”

The reaction time/decision-making exercise involved driving through one set of cones and then a police officer telling the driver to either go left or right through another set of cones. They drove through at different speeds.

Junior Marissa Reedy said it was challenging.

“It gave me anxiety,” she said, smiling. “(The officer) said, ‘OK, step on the gas,’ so I stepped on the gas real hard. And he said to let go at a certain point, and right as we got close to the cones, he said, ‘Go left now,’  so I turned left. Sometimes, I turned right by accident.”

She said it was good to be put through different scenarios.

“It’s just like life decision-making,” she said. “You have to make a decision right then.”

With the skid car, a drift lift was on each of the back tires. Two cones were placed different lengths apart, and the driver accelerated while going around a cone and turned the steering wheel, which caused the tires to lift slightly and the car to spin out. 

“Whenever you hear the skid, you have to turn your wheel the direction that your back tires are going, which was really hard. You just knew that you definitely weren’t in control,” junior Sarah Montgomery said.

“It was like an adrenaline rush,” senior Kami Barnes said. “It’s like you don’t really know exactly if it’s going to turn out OK.”

With the exercise, Barnes said she knew it was safe because she was in a controlled car. But out on the road in her own car, the result could be different.

“If this actually happens to (a driver), they don’t know what to do,” she said of a car skidding out of control. “This should help you know how to handle the situation.”

The final exercise had a large piece of farm machinery parked in front of a police car. Students got up in the seat of the equipment to experience the operator’s point of view and blind spots.

“The goal of that activity was for us to realize the limitations of the blind spots on that big piece of equipment,” junior Gunnar Ortlieb said. “Even though we may think we’re following it at a safe distance, there’s so much behind the mirrors that it’s hard for the farmer or whoever is driving it to see it.”

Officers told the students to stay at least 20 feet back from farm equipment and other large vehicles.

“I’d say it’ll stick in my mind as a reminder to maybe try to stay out from behind them or if so, follow at a safer distance,” Ortlieb said. “From what I would perceive to be a safer distance from the vehicle is not necessarily that from the farmer’s perspective, so it’s important to make sure that you understand their perspective as well as what you’re seeing.”

Lamb said the outdoor exercises were beneficial for the students.

“What we want to do is to try to put the kids in positions to where they actually feel a car is out of control and what to do and how to recover with that,” he said. “They need to come out here and feel that, ‘This is the limitations of my car, and this is my personal limitations.’ We want them to feel that here and take that back on the road with them when they do drive.”

He also said he hopes the students share what they learned with others.

“Our goal is that they take some of what they learned with them back on the road as a driver and also, if they are a passenger in a car, to share that with a driver who didn’t go through this program — ‘This is what I learned.’ ‘Hey, you shouldn’t be doing that.’ ‘Hey, put your phone down,'” he said.

The event also provides good interaction between the students and police officers, Lamb said. He plans on doing Rule the Road again next year.

“It’s always good to interact with kids,” he said. “To see their face and for them to think, ‘I didn’t know that I could do that’ or ‘I didn’t know the car would go out of control that quickly,’ it’s good to see that. It’s a great learning opportunity.”

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.