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Driving Home the Point

When Haneen Saqer, Ewart de Visser, and Jonathan Strohl arrived at Westfield High School in Chantilly, Virginia to talk about the perils of distracted driving, they thought they would be addressing a group of 100 students. Instead, they faced an auditorium of 700 students along with reporters from ABC News and NPR. After all, the trio — who are members of the George Mason University student group Distractions n’ Driving (DnD) — had just come to share their graduate research in Human Factors and Applied Cognition.

Watch coverage of the program from this ABC 7 News Clip:

“We were a bit overwhelmed, but we were prepared,” de Visser says. “The kids really liked it because it was very engaging. They were really enthusiastic.” It’s easy to see why the students were impressed with the DnD program. During the presentation, the DnD team measures volunteers’ baseline driving performance via a simulation projected onto a giant screen. Next, the DnD team demonstrated how the volunteers’ driving skills get worse when they are asked to drive in the simulation while texting. The results are sobering: Everyone fails the driving task when texting, and they usually veer off of the road, too.

Thanks to media coverage and increasing concern about distracted driving, demand for the GMU students’ demonstration is growing. Since 2010, they have delivered their message before hundreds of high school students and 200 new drivers at two Fairfax County driver licensing ceremonies. Science fair attendees, private transportation services companies, federal safety agencies, and regional AAA representatives have also benefited from DnD presentations. Next week, the students will give demonstrations at the National Traffic Safety Board’s Attentive Driving Forum and Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax County.

Saqer, Visser, and Strohl, as well as other student members Bridget Lewis, Melissa Smith, Jesse Eisert, Christian Gonzalez, and Stephanie Pratt, are optimistic that their grassroots efforts will catch on in other regions. “It is our hope that distracted driving education becomes better integrated into general driving education, and perhaps our program will provide an example of one way to accomplish this,” they say. “In the meantime, we are exploring options with private, driving-education schools and insurance companies on ways to incentivize new drivers and their parents to participate in our program.”

How does the Distractions n’ Driving presentation work? Ewart de Visser and Jonathan Strohl give a demonstration:

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When you are texting or talking on your phone when driving you’re using up attention that you should be using to focus on driving. The amount of attention you have at one time is limited.

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