Focusing on distracted driving with SIDNE® (Simulated Impaired Driving Experience)

We’ve all been there, driving down the road behind a car that swerves back and forth in its lane. Not long ago, that was a sure sign of someone driving while impaired. These days, it’s all too often a sign of distracted driving.

Teens are a special concern to Sergeant Bev Fraser of the Medina, Ohio, County Sheriff’s Office. “We’ve had a lot of teen accidents in our County” she says. Several have resulted in teen deaths. “Speed and inexperience were the cause of some of the accidents but distracted driving is believed to be the cause behind others.”

“Texting is a big problem,” Fraser continues, noting that recently, a girl flipped her car while texting. Though a new law prohibiting texting when driving is a step in the right direction, the Medina Sheriff’s Office is determined to reach students where they live, too.

This is why the department created a Teen Distracted Driving Prevention Program that addresses both impaired and distracted driving issues. And the star of that program is definitely SIDNE®.

“We love our SIDNE®,” says Fraser. “The students have told us they do not listen when we lecture. We asked the teens before we purchased SIDNE® and they said the hands-on experience is what makes a bigger impact on them. SIDNE® gives that vital experience in a safe environment.”

Fraser takes SIDNE® into the three schools in her district. The foremost goal is to prove to the teens that you can’t do two things at once. The students who are waiting for SIDNE® are kept busy using the Fatal Reaction® unit with the Distract-a-Match® game and the Fatal Vision® goggles. These tools help to reinforce the lessons learned on SIDNE®.

“First we send them out (in SIDNE®) in the unimpaired mode,” Fraser explains. “Then we ask them to text someone.” When the drivers inevitably hit the cones marking the course, Fraser tells them they just hit something—or someone.

This lesson not only makes a forceful impact on the SIDNE® drivers, but also on passengers. “One rider grabbed the wheel from the driver, he was so scared,” Fraser says. “It’s very effective for SIDNE® passengers. They see firsthand the danger distracted driving causes.”

Fraser also uses an exercise in which she throws a ball out on the course. “Most of them just hit it and keep going. They say they didn’t see it” she says. “I tell them, ‘That’s a child you just hit.’”

But SIDNE® doesn’t only have an impact on teens. Fraser plans to take it to a community leaders meeting so Medina County leaders can see for themselves how effective SIDNE® is. SIDNE® also goes to other community events and the department plans to expand its use by taking it to other schools in the county.

“SIDNE® even sits in the lobby by the main desk (in the Sheriff’s Office) as a constant reminder to the community,” Fraser says.

Medina Sheriff Neil F. Hassinger went through SIDNE® training himself and has attended several events. He’s seen how grateful parents are for the reality check SIDNE® gives their teens. Sheriff Hassinger had his seventeen-year-old granddaughter, complete the SIDNE® course with him as her passenger. He wanted her to learn the dangers of texting and driving firsthand.

“It is critical for us to do everything possible to protect our families and SIDNE® is another step in providing that protection,” Hassinger says. “I believe SIDNE® is a valuable tool for all ages in promoting safety in our community.”

Fraser remembers one mother was very shaken up when her son, who was about to get his temporary license, couldn’t keep SIDNE® on the course. “His younger sister responded with, ‘I’m never going to ride with him!’”

The Sheriff’s Office took six years to raise the funds to purchase SIDNE®. Most of the funds came from a $5,000 local donation and from the county’s drug interdiction team. But all the effort was well worth it.

“We’re hoping to at least convince them to put the cell phone down (while driving),” says Fraser. “There’s no one you need to talk to that much.”