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Beatrice High School student Riley Henry was driving down the highway when his iPhone buzzed. He looked down at the cell phone in his hand at a text message that asked, “What’s your favorite color?” As he was typing in his answer, he ran head-on into a delivery truck at 45 miles per hour. Henry threw up his hands in frustration and walked away.

Henry was driving in a distracted driving simulator, part of the Save a Life Tour’s interactive presentation aimed at keeping new drivers safe behind the wheel. The tour, which travels to high schools nationwide and around the world, came to Beatrice on Friday.

As part of a grant from the State of Nebraska Department of Roads Office of Highway Safety, the Save a Life Tour brought the distracted driving simulator and impaired driving simulator—both featuring a steering wheel, gas and brake pedals and video monitors—and several videos featuring victims of drunk and distracted driving played on a large screen to BHS.

The simulators play sort of like video games, with students behind the wheel of a car in a digitally-created backdrop, filled with buildings, road signs and other drivers. The distracted driving simulator pops up text messages on a cell phone while students try to drive through traffic and the impairment simulator slows down reaction time and shows the tunnel vision that drunk drivers might experience.

“Reaction time for a normal adult might be one second to a stimulus,” said Zac Lauenstein, school resource officer with the Beatrice Police Department. “During an impairment of 0.8, the legal limit for an adult, it might be three seconds. It builds that in. It's pretty indicitive of what we see out of impaired drivers. It's pretty impressive; the students seem to be responding pretty well.”

The distracted and impaired driving simulators are new tools in teaching technology, but it was a local connection during a film about binge drinking, “Death by Alcohol” that made things a bit more real for a lot of participants.

The film tells the story of Beatrice native Samantha Spady. She was the class president at Beatrice High School, a member of the National Honor Society, captain of the cheerleading squad and homecoming queen. In September of 2004, Spady was a 19-year-old student at Colorado State University in Denver. After a night spent at parties and heavy drinking at CSU, Spady fell ill, passed out and was left alone in a room. She was found the next morning, dead from alcohol poisoning with a blood-alcohol level of 0.436.

“With this whole story of Sam Spady, it hit home, obviously,” said health teacher Melissa Carper. “We're not quite on this unit yet, but ironically it is our next unit. I usually discuss the Sam Spady story, it hits home with the true-life story. It's good for our kids to interact, discuss and see the simulations.”

The movie is an important part of the lesson that doesn’t get touched upon with the simulators, said tour manager Christopher Rich. Binge drinking is an element that most kids will get their first experience with at school, and Spady’s story really drives the message home.

“Her story really helps the program a lot,” Rich said. “At all of our shows, we play it all over the world. I've had that DVD for about 10 years, and now I actually made it to her high school.”

After trying out the simulators and watching the videos, students are given a card to sign, it’s a pledge that reads, “I pledged to never give in, to never let my phone win, by not tempting fate, I will power down and concentrate, I know the text and call can wait.” They also received a rubber band bracelet that reads “I Took the Pledge”.

Students who used the simulators seemed to take home the message that impaired and distracted driving can really be a toll on your senses and concentration.

“The drunk one, it got gradually harder as it kept going on,” said BHS student Wyatt Blum.

“It was cool to see how slowed down your reactions really are,” added Carson Licht. “Controlling a car is almost impossible when they're that slow.”

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