Everything is fun and games and "LOL" until a car, a bike, a ball or — worse — a little kid unexpectedly stops in front of you.
That's when the simulator stops, and the driver more or less "fails."
The Wausau Police Department brought the state's only texting-while-driving simulator to a health fair last Saturday, July 26, at Bryan and Stratton College. The result was myriad teachable moments.
"I generally think the students who are using it are surprised because most people feel confident that they're not taking their eyes off the road for that long of time," said Lt. Nathan Pekarske of the Wausau Police Department. "They feel confident, like 'I do this all the time; it's not a big deal.' They don't realize how quickly, with your eyes off the road, someone can step in front of you and how quickly a traffic accident can unfold."
The texting while driving simulator is a computer system comprised of sensors and other equipment that hook up to a normal car that is lifted on pedestals, so it cannot move. The driver wears virtual reality glasses and operates the vehicle as bicycles, pedestrians and cars cross his or her path.
The simulator moderator then prompts the driver to pull out their cellphone and begin texting or scrolling through different apps.
"The general outcome is, most people, once they start texting, they will end up missing a stop light, hitting a pedestrian, and at that time the simulation stops," Pekarske said.
The Wausau Police Department aims this teaching device at new drivers in high school or college-age drivers.
"They are the age group most likely to be active in sending text messages or doing things on their phone compared to other populations of people," Pekarske said. "Also, they are the newest people on the road."
According to TextingAndDrivingSafety.com, 55 percent of young adult drivers claim it's easy to text while they drive. However, teens who text while driving spend about 10 percent of their driving time outside of their lane, the report said.
Text messaging also makes a crash up to 23 percent more likely, according to the website.
Texting while driving is illegal in Wisconsin. Using a cellphone while driving is also illegal for any driver with a probationary license or instruction permit, except to report an emergency, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.