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Simulator shows consequences of bad decisions

Nancy Riggleman, 19, of Winchester tries out the distracted driver simulator at Winchester Medical Center on Thursday. A trauma nurse clinician at the hospital came up with the idea and the Winchester Medical Center Foundation and the hospital's Auxiliary funded the project. The video system's software shows consequences, like being handcuffed at a sobriety check point or waking up as you’re being taken to the hospital. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Kim Walter

WINCHESTER -- As a trauma nurse clinician at Winchester Medical Center, Ray Warriner has seen his fair share of vehicle accident victims, and he's heard far too often that the cause was related to distracted driving, alcohol or the lack of a seatbelt.

Over the years, Warriner said he has hoped to introduce a more realistic type of education tool to the community -- one that would not only simulate real-life driving scenarios, but also real-life consequences.

Thanks to the hospital's Auxiliary and Foundation, funding was provided for a device called "One Simple Step," -- a virtual safe-driving simulator that includes a steering wheel, brake and gas pedals, and videos viewed in the first-person format.

The program takes a participant through a choice of scenarios relating to driving under the influence, texting and driving without a seatbelt.

One scenario brings a driver to a sobriety check point, where a police officer is shown speaking directly to the participant. The driver is then asked a number of questions, and is placed in handcuffs.

The program goes so far as to simulate a person being taken to jail and put in a cell. Then, the person goes to court, where he receives a sentence and learns how much the entire ordeal would cost.

Driving under the influence is simulated through the steering wheel becoming harder to control. To represent distracted driving, a touch screen cell phone comes up on the screen with which the driver is to make calls and read and reply to texts.

Nancy Riggleman, 19, of Winchester went through the scenario Thursday morning at the hospital. While she was able to keep the car relatively straight, she found herself abruptly speeding up and stopping, and eventually ran into a turning car.

The screen went black, and suddenly Nancy "woke up" in the emergency room surrounded by health professionals.

"I thought I'd do better than that," she admitted after finishing. "The pedals and steering was pretty realistic, but I just couldn't get the right texts entered and it was hard to concentrate."

Warriner said some of the accidents result in a fatality. At the end of that scenario, when a participant finds himself in a courtroom, he will have to hear the testimony of the victim's family members.

Each scenario, which can last up to 15 minutes, also includes survey questions to test the driver's knowledge on certain legislation related to distracted or drunk driving. There are also video clips of health professionals speaking about their experience with trauma in relation to motor vehicle accidents.

"I thought all of that was actually pretty informative," Riggleman said.

Warriner said he hopes to get the simulator for use in regional schools, service organizations and health-related events. However, he stressed that the device is not designed to teach people how to drive.

"This isn't just for young drivers," he said. "Sure, they have less experience and will find this useful, but I see just as many experienced drivers texting, eating, drinking and driving ... this is for anyone who operates a vehicle."

Warriner also said he believes the consequence part of the simulator will have more of an impact than "drunk goggles" or posters and presentations.

"The goggles usually result in kids just having fun," he said.

Riggleman agreed, and said the goggles were used while she was in high school to simulate being drunk and having to perform a sobriety test.

"Yeah, it didn't really help much," she said. "But this is different ... this is serious."

Doris Trent, director of volunteer services, said the Auxiliary was happy to help fund the device, which cost $10,800. The funding was split evenly between the Auxiliary and the Foundation.

"This is just such an exciting educational tool to have in the community," she said. "It's a great way to be interactive and send a message -- be safe with your driving."

Warriner said in 2012 the trauma department saw 242 victims of motor vehicle accidents, making it the No. 1 cause of trauma. He said it was hard to hear a person admit that he lost control of a vehicle because he looked down at his phone, or decided to drive after drinking.

"There's still a lot to be done to combat these issues with education and legislation," he said. "But hopefully this is a step in the right direction."

Anyone or any group interested in using the "One Simple Step" program, contact Warriner at rwarrine@valleyhealthlink.com or Lisa Wells, trauma program manager, at lwells@valleyhealthlink.com.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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