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UMD professor uses video game to prevent distracted driving

A woman uses a distracted-driving simulator created by University of Minnesota Duluth professor Dr. Edward Downs using PlayStation 3. Downs used the simulator to test the attitudes of about 100 college students toward distracted driving. (Photo by Dr. Edward Downs)

A University of Minnesota Duluth professor is hoping to keep people from using their phones behind the wheel by putting them in front of a video game.

Dr. Edward Downs turned a PlayStation 3 into a distracted-driving simulator. He used it in an experiment, which tested the attitude of about 100 college students towards distracted driving.

Before and after their drive on the simulator, the students took a survey that asked them how likely they were to drive while distracted.

The participants were sent 10 text messages during the experiment, to which they responded. Downs says that’s all it took for the students’ attitudes to change.

“When we put them in the simulator, they’re able to see on their own and come to their own conclusions that they’re not as good at multitasking as they thought they were and how dangerous it can be,” Downs said.

Holly Kostrzewski with the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Toward Zero Deaths program said she doesn’t think most people realize how poor their driving is when they are distracted.

“People don’t know, and you don’t want to put them in a situation where they have to learn and then they end up in a crash,” Kostrzewski said, “But a simulated experience like this is really fascinating.”

The experiment also measured drivers’ reactions while talking on the phone.

The results of the study are under peer review.

Downs says the simulators will be at the Minnesota State Fair this year as part of the University of Minnesota’s Driven to Discover campaign.