The Maine Highway Safety Bureau has a driving simulator that demonstrates to teens the effects of distracted and impaired driving. Set up like a video game, it gives them the feeling of sitting in the driver's seat when things go wrong.

Johannah Oberg, Highway Safety Coordinator with the Department of Public Safety, brought the simulator to our studios on Friday so we could see, firsthand, how it works. It's set up like an elaborate video game, with a steering wheel clamped to the table, and pedals on the floor. When you start out, it's pretty cool!

Then the simulator prompts you to make a call....and then text. You do it with a mouse, so it's not quite the same as the real thing, but it's close enough. You can see by the video that I didn't do well at all. I mowed down traffic cones, sending them flying into the air, before I went off the other side of the road, hit an embankment, and flipped the car. I laugh when it's done because of the video game feel to the simulator, but then reality sets in.

Once you're done driving, the video gets very real. You see EMT's working over your head (although they're treating your passenger). In my case, Lifeflight was called in to transport us to the hospital. Then, you're in court, with a first-person point of view of a judge issuing a sentence. At this point, it gets very real, as you truly feel like you're sitting in the courtroom, learning the consequences of your actions. You may get jail time, public service, license suspension, or a combination.

The impaired driving program changes the way the simulator reacts to your actions. The faster you drive, the harder it is to brake (I ended up rear-ending someone at a stop sign), and when you turn the wheel the car swings wider than usual. And the follow-up to the driving is similar to the distracted driving, except it includes time in a jail cell and a job interviewer, ten years later, who's going to look into your driving record.

All in all, I'd have to say, it's a pretty effective tool for demonstrating how easy it is to get into an accident. How that second or two that you're looking at your phone can be the difference between life and death. I'd highly recommend that schools use it for their own students to make them think twice before pulling out the cell phone while they're behind the wheel.

Any school administration that's interested in making the simulator available to their students can call Johannah Oberg at (207) 626-3840. She recommends calling as soon as possible for the coming school year so you can reserve your place on the calendar before the dates are all gone.