Students in suburban New York are getting a chance to learn the perils of distracted driving without having to worry about an accident or a traffic ticket.
A texting-while-driving simulator that resembles an old-fashioned video game is being demonstrated at nine Westchester County high schools this week, District Attorney Janet DiFiore said Monday.
The simulator features the voice of an annoying passenger who doesn't wear her seat belt, asks the driver to speed up and then has him make a phone call and send a text message to her brother.
The driver tries to maneuver local streets and then highways while using a real cellphone or the one on the video display.
During a demonstration Monday, test subjects including Scarsdale police Chief John Brogan quickly got into fake accidents while trying to multitask.
"Even one second of distraction can lead to a lifetime of regret," DiFiore said. She said distracted driving poses dangers "not only to the driver and the passenger but to everyone who uses the roads."
The simulator is part of a plan to teach and enforce a state law that went into effect in July. The new law allows police to stop and ticket drivers they see texting while driving.
The penalty can be as high as $150 and three points on a driving record.
Previously, police could cite drivers for texting only if they were stopped primarily for another offense, such as speeding.
Mount Pleasant police Chief Louis Alagno said the county chiefs association is sending out a directive urging all departments in Westchester to strictly enforce the new law. They issued 165 tickets in the law's first two months.
"Police officers will be watching for you," he warned.
In March, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released a poll that said 30 percent of people under 30 acknowledged sending text messages while driving.
The simulator is owned by several agents of the Nationwide Insurance Co., which is taking part in the education campaign.