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Simulator shows danger of distracted driving

Heidie Martinez monitors' Andy Barriga's "Reality Ride" driving. | Taylor Hartz/For the Sun-Times

We all know it’s a bad idea to text and drive, but it can be easy to think that a quick message about what’s for dinner or when you’ll be home won’t put you in danger.

Allstate is on a mission to show drivers that is not the case. The insurer’s “Reality Rides” campaign is on a nationwide tour to discourage distracted driving. The campaign gives drivers a chance to hop inside a simulator in which they drive through local terrain while an Allstate apps sends quick questions to your inbox, like ‘What’s your favorite spot in Chicago?’ and ‘Wanna meet there?’

A bright blue Allstate Jeep was parked outside Harold Washington College in the Loop on Thursday, its front covered by a curved screen to project the view during the simulated drive. A small crowd lined up to see just how hard it is to monitor your speed, stop at a red light, and watch out for that taxi rounding the corner while also looking at your phone.

“This is the safest way to try out texting and driving,” said Moni Garza, an Allstate manager for the Midwest region. “We know that it’s a really prevalent problem, especially here in Chicago.”

The driving simulator drew a crowd outside Harold Washington College. | Taylor Hartz/For the Sun-Times

Most drivers who try the simulator crash in less than 30 seconds, said Garza. The most anyone has lasted? One minute, she said.

“The average person doesn’t realize that when you read a text you look away from the road for five seconds,” said Garza. At 55 mph, that’s the length of a football field.

Just last summer, Harold Washington College freshman Johnnie Bienion crashed his car on the expressway.

“I just went to change the song,” said Bienion. “When I looked up, I was spinning.”

After that, he vowed he’d never text and drive again. But today’s activity was a good reminder.

“It makes you not want to text and drive anymore,” said Bienion, who said he now drives with his phone on the “do not disturb” mode.

“It makes you think twice about getting in the car with someone who does,” he added. “Maybe tell them pull over to finish that message.”

The simulator was intended to show the dangers of texting while driving; most who used it crashed in about 30 seconds. | Taylor Hartz/For the Sun-Times

Andy Barriga, also a freshman at Harold Washington, said the experience made him realize how dangerous it is to text and drive, and how easily you can be distracted by your passengers. Barriga said he will think twice the next time a passenger tries to show him something on their phone.

“Especially here in Chicago, you can’t be distracted,” said Barriga.

After crashing the simulator, drivers were given a list of the real traffic infractions they’d committed, like speeding, swerving and eventually, collision.

Hilda Thompson, an Allstate agent in the South Loop, had nearly every infraction checked off on her list. Thompson could be heard screaming and laughing from Lake Street as she tried to text and drive.

“I crashed right away,” she exclaimed when she exited the simulator. “This was evidence that I cannot do this,” said Thompson, “I won’t be doing that again.”

Hilda Thompson, an Allstate agent in the South Loop, looks over the infractions she committed while using the driving simulator. | Taylor Hartz/For the Sun-Times