AUGUSTA, Maine — Officials with the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety are hoping that two computer simulators will help cut down on the number of teens killed during accidents on Maine roads.
The agency announced Wednesday that it had secured a $20,000 grant to purchase the two simulators, which feature a computer screen and a steering wheel. The bureau will conduct a series of classes around the state for police officers, who will learn how to use the devices. They will then teach teens about driving awareness, including the dangers of texting while driving. Texting while driving is now illegal in Maine.
Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Wednesday that the units were purchased with a grant from the Ford Motor Foundation. Maine received one of only five such grants nationwide.
Dozens of police officers will be trained on the equipment in the coming weeks. Officers then will take that knowledge back to their communities to share with local teenagers.
“Obviously, this generation can relate to them because they look like a video game,” said McCausland. “This is going to be a great teaching tool.”
Classes for officers will take place in Vassalboro, Portland, Bangor and Augusta. McCausland said that trainings are not scheduled in Aroostook and Washington counties at this point, adding that police officers from these areas likely will travel to Bangor to be trained.
According to the Maine Transportation Safety Coalition, drivers between the ages of 16 and 24 years old account for only 13 percent of Maine drivers, yet they account for 36 percent of all auto accidents. They also are more likely to be involved in severe crashes that involve personal injury or death.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for Mainers ages 1 to 24. Younger Maine drivers are more likely to be involved in crashes directly related to risk-taking behaviors such as speeding, distracted driving and alcohol use. Teen fatality rates in Maine are highest between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“These simulators are going to show these teenagers how dangerous it is to text behind the wheel or to not pay attention to what is going on around you when you are behind the wheel,” said McCausland.
Alyssa Beaulieu, 18, of Caribou said Wednesday that she doesn’t text behind the wheel, but she has a number of friends who do.
“I think they believe that it will only take a second, and it isn’t a big deal to kind of just take your eyes off the road and sit your phone on your lap and send a text,” she said.
Brian Gonya, 19, of Houlton said that he still texts behind the wheel and was not aware that it is illegal.
“I really don’t know anyone who doesn’t text behind the wheel,” he said.