WARWICK — Timothy Brichetto learned last Friday that it’s very easy to become distracted while driving and possibly cause a serious or fatal accident.
The Bishop Hendricken High School senior also discovered that despite obtaining his driver’s license last month, he actually knows very little about operating a motor vehicle.
Brichetto was one of 80 Bishop Hendricken students who participated in Distractology 101, a two-part training program sponsored by the Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundation, Inc., based in Quincy, Mass.
“It was a real eye opener. It shows that I am really unaware,” Brichetto said, after taking the first part of the training, adding that he does not text message when he’s behind the wheel.
Part one of the innovative training curriculum consists of a 45-minute session using a driver simulator console placed in a mobile classroom; part two is taken online and reinforces the important information learned during the first session.
In the second session, participants take a true and false test, watch thought-provoking videos and are presented with startling statistics about young drivers and the causes of serious accidents.
Using the driving simulator, the Hendricken students quickly saw how text messaging, talking on a cell phone, eating, listening to loud music or being disturbed by rowdy passengers can interfere with a driver’s ability to react quickly on the road and see hidden hazards.
The young men learned that even the slightest distraction can affect their own safety and impact the lives of many other individuals as they approached crosswalks, made left-hand turns and experienced other potentially dangerous situations as they sat behind the wheel of the console.
“It’s a tremendous experience for the kids,” said Chris Iannotti, an employee of Gencorp Insurance of East Greenwich, whose president Richard Padula’s son Zachary is a student at Bishop Hendricken.
Iannotti noted that for students to be eligible for the driving program, they must have either received a learner’s permit or had less than three years of experience behind the wheel. Only seniors were eligible to participate, and since many students were turned away because of limited timeslots, Arbella hopes to offer the program again at Hendricken before the end of the school year.
According to Dan Hicks, Distractology 101 program coordinator, a large percentage of the students who participated in the training program last week admitted that they still text message while driving, which is illegal in Rhode Island.
In Massachusetts, a new law went into effect Oct. 1 making it illegal for drivers under the age of 18 to text message or use a cell phone while operating a vehicle.
Hicks added that drivers ages 18-20 are more likely to be in a distraction-related accident that can also occur when a motorist is using an iPod, viewing a GPS or changing the radio station. He emphasized that a motorist who drives while text messaging is as cognitively impaired as a person operating a motor vehicle while having a .08 percent blood alcohol level.
Senior Ryan Moore, who has been driving for a year and four months, said he was involved in two accidents during the simulated session.
“It woke me up to real life experiences,” he said, adding that he found the hands-on session to be more relevant than reading an instructional manual and listening to a driver education instructor. Arbella offers the program at high schools throughout Southern New England. Participants who successfully complete the training are presented with a $15 gasoline credit card.
“It’s a very timely event that can certainly benefit our kids and make them become safer drivers, said Joseph Brennan, Bishop Hendricken High School principal. “This kind of program can change attitudes.
To learn more about Distractology 101, visit the Web site: http://www.distractu.com/.