Virtual reality lets teens experience distracted, drunk driving without the consequences

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Virtual reality lets teens experience distracted, drunk driving without the consequences

Manitoba Public Insurance has launched a tool targeted to teens that focuses on the top road safety issues for new drivers, using a new technology that's all the rage with youngsters.

DRIVR-X is an app that uses virtual reality technology to let teens experience a simulated drive where they are impaired, distracted, or speeding. The experience allows them to see the results of bad choices, without having to live with any of the consequences.

"It was unbelievable," said Kelsey Schillberg.

"It literally feels like you're impaired while driving," said the newly licensed driver, who is also the chair of her school's Teens Against Distracted Driving group.

"It allows you to be in the zone of what it's like to be impaired or distracted without actually being in danger of it," said Schillberg.

Grade 11 students from Transcona Collegiate Institute were invited to test drive the new technology at the campaign's launch on Friday. The teens got to wear virtual reality headsets and get behind the wheel of a stationary driver's seat.

The simulated experience starts outside the vehicle at a party, where the young driver is faced with a decision. The choose-your-own-adventure style game takes teens through various simulations of driving while impaired, distracted by a cellphone, or speeding.

The game also allows the user to experience the aftermath — a funeral, a hospital scene, and an encounter with police.

"This is another way that we can get at our newest, youngest drivers, and help them to make safe driving decisions that hopefully will last them for the rest of their lives," said Ward Keith, vice-president of loss prevention and communications at MPI.

He says the technology will be used for years to come and can be adapted as the program evolves.

"When dealing with young drivers, who continue to be over-represented in collisions, our main focus is finding ways to resonate with young drivers," said Keith.

According to MPI, nearly 30 people are killed on Manitoba roads each year due to distracted driving, and one in five collisions are linked to impaired driving.

Teens can take experience home to share

Students who participate in the simulation also get a cardboard virtual reality viewer to take home with them. When combined with a cellphone, the glasses become a portable way to share the virtual reality experience with friends.

"This is all about kids talking to each other and creating new conversation and trying to convince each other about the importance of safe driving," said Keith.

The DRIVR-X app can be downloaded to any smartphone and can also be used without the glasses.

Schillberg says the experience will definitely stay with her and she hopes other people try it for themselves.

"I'm shaking a little bit from just that little experience, and it wasn't even real, but it felt like it was real," she said.

"I hope everybody that's come with us today really takes it in and spreads it around," said Schillberg.

The program cost MPI $200,000 to develop, and will travel to community events and schools to reach new drivers and allow them to start conversations about safe driving.