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Hanover students to get crash course on distracted driving

Mobile classrooms equipped with video-game-like driving simulators teach students the dangers of driving while distracted, such as texting behind the wheel.
Mobile classrooms equipped with video-game-like driving simulators teach students the dangers of driving while distracted, such as texting behind the wheel.(Greenough Communications)

Students at Hanover High School will get a first-hand look at the risks of texting while driving without having to put themselves or others in danger.

Distractology 101, an interactive program developed and coordinated by the Arbella Insurance Foundation, teaches new drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. The campaign’s bright-yellow mobile classroom will roll up to Hanover High School on Monday at 7:30 a.m. Distractology’s two high-tech driving simulators will provide free 45-minute training sessions for students through Friday.

Distractology coordinator Danny Corcoran said Distractology 101 was established by the Arbella Insurance Foundation five years ago. “Our CEO John Donohue started to notice some big trends in our claims department with some form of inattentive driving,” said Corcoran. “He felt we had to stay ahead of this trend and do something about it.”

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The foundation partners with its local independent agents to bring the program to high schools throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. In Hanover, representatives from AP Insurance Group and Monaghan & Tinkham Insurance Agency are expected to join a number of local officials, including state Representative Rhonda Nyman and Town Manager Troy Clarkson, on Tuesday morning to demonstrate their support for the program.

“The thing that I love the most about this program is that Arbella is the first insurance company I’ve represented that is this receptive to the needs of the communities in which it sells its product,” said Tom Monaghan, owner of Monaghan & Tinkham. “This is something that needs the light of day.”

Each training session will put newly permitted or licensed students through eight driving scenarios of varying difficulty. According to Corcoran, the scenarios came out of extensive distracted-driving research conducted by Donald Fisher, a professor and department head at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s College of Engineering.

“We use all the science and studies that Dr. Fisher and his team had been performing and built that into the simulator,” said Corcoran. “We’re trying to go above and beyond what new drivers experience when they’re getting their learner’s permit or driver’s license.”

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The most difficult Distractology scenarios will require Hanover students to use their own cellphones as part of the training. “We find it very beneficial for students to have their cellphone in hand,” said Corcoran. “We show them what can happen when they take their eyes off the road for one or two seconds.”

Distractology 101 tours the region for 34 weeks every year, visiting a new school each week. According to Corcoran, the program has proved popular with both students and administrators — some schools have opted to host the program as many as three times.

“High schools absolutely love this program,” said Corcoran. “We provide this experience for students free of charge, which really makes the decision easy for schools. At the very least, most of our kids are walking away with some new information.”

In a 2012 study conducted by the Arbella Insurance Foundation, 97 percent of students surveyed said the experience was either effective or extremely effective. Eighty-two percent said they would recommend the experience to a friend.

“Whether they crash or not, they’ll learn something different,” said Corcoran. “We don’t care if they make a mistake. We want them to be able to learn in a way that is safe.”

According to Monaghan, the Distractology mobile classroom will be left overnight on Friday and taken away on Saturday morning.

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“We’re looking to give it a lot of exposure,” Monaghan said. “Friday’s the first home game for the Hanover High football team.”


William Holt can be reached at william.holt@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @wb_holt.