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Auto show simulator shows dangers of distracted driving

Posted by: Tim Harlow Updated: March 13, 2014 - 1:19 PM

This week, I stopped by to test drive the 41st annual Twin Cities Auto Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center and found that the hundreds of cool vehicles on display are loaded with myriad safety features. Some come with sensors to alert drivers when they are about to veer out of a lane without signaling. Others come with complete navigation systems and features that go by the names such as Side Blind Zone Alert  and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

I won't get into all the nuisances because this isn't a car blog. It's a transportation and commuting blog.

It's good to know that car manufacturers are looking out for my welfare. But there is one thing they can't control: My, and your, driving behavior.

Safety is paramount on the roads, and even with all protection built in to today's vehicles the TeenDrive365 exhibit illustrates just how easy it can be to crash one of the $25,000 beauties. For me, it only took 41 seconds.

The hands-on exhibit aimed at teens but appropriate for adults begins with a survey about driving behavior and attitudes about things such as texting, speeding and tailgating while driving. Then it's behind the wheel. That's where participants strap on a 3D visor and take a simulated drive down the street. A friendly host will ask "drivers" to do such tasks as reaching in the back seat for a water bottle, open the glove box, send a text message or tune the radio, all while trying to dodge pedestrians, parked cars and paying attention to changing traffic conditions.

A computer records a driver's actions and displays the results for the world to see. The trek stops when there is a crash or worse. I killed a pedestrian in 41 seconds. Thankfully it was only a drill, and not a real emergency.

"It gets people to rethink the question of distracted driving," said one exhibit representative. "It's definitely an eye-opener."

Participants are given a goodie bag with information about free driving clinics for teens and parents put on by Toyota.

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