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Online Video Game Teaches Hazards of Distracted Driving

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Distraction DriverAn Internet-based video game that demonstrates the hazards of distracted driving was a highlight at the fourth annual Teen Safe Driving Summit in Rosemont, Minnesota, last Thursday. The game, called “Distraction Dodger,” was designed by the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Institute at the University of Minnesota.

When you play the online game, you are the driver of a pizza delivery van in a “pizza-loving city” called Little Moots. Your goal is to make as much virtual money as possible delivering pizza, while being tempted to use a smartphone, social media, and GPS as you are driving, reports HealthCanal.com. If you insist on being distracted, you need to do so while avoiding obstacles, traffic tickets, damage to the vehicle, and personal danger. As you progress through the game’s levels, it gives you feedback on your driving performance and how distracted you are.

As Bill Keller writes for MyFoxTwinCities.com:

Unlike most video games, it takes more than coordination to work through the seven levels.

‘Actually, when you use a distraction, the screen goes black to kind of show you — as the driver — this is a distraction,’ said [Shawn] Haag[, of the Center for Transportation Studies]. ‘You can’t see where you’re headed into.’

Though the game may look simple, it was created by the Human First Lab, which uses psychology and human behavior to try and improve the scientific understanding of how a driver’s brain work.

According to HealthCanal.com, Max Donath, director of the ITS Institute and a professor of mechanical engineering, said, “This is a video game, but the choices presented in the game are true to life.”

As this blog noted in a recent post:

Distraction.gov, the official U.S. government website for distracted driving, reports that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car accidents caused by distracted driving in 2009 killed 5,474 people and injured an estimated 448,000 people, and that 16% of fatal crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving.

“For young drivers who believe they can do it all and not negatively affect driving, the Distraction Dodger game offers a reality check,” said Michael Manser, director of the HumanFIRST Program at the ITS Institute.

Keller writes that although distracted-driving schools using obstacle courses can demonstrate how hard it is to do two things at once, “Distraction Dodger” is intended to teach that lesson to kids before they get their license.

HealthCanal.com reports that “Distraction Dodger” was developed by ITS with the help of Web Courseworks and educational consultant David B. Glick & Associates, and was given an award at the 2011 International Serious Play Conference.

Keller writes:

It may not be as addictive as ‘Angry Birds,’ but it is more educational. […]

Researchers say they hope the results will send a clear message about the No. 1 cause of auto accidents — distraction.

There is an old expression about walking and chewing gum. In today’s world, that analogy has evolved to driving and eating a chicken drumstick.

You can play the game here:  www.its.umn.edu/DistractionDodger/game/

And here is a short video about the Human First Lab:

Image by University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies Intelligent Transportation Systems, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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