BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
DRESDEN (September 8) – Traveling the country to warn students of the dangers of driving impaired is somewhat of a personal crusade for Gracie Cochran. She, along with Aydan Hurst, lifelong friend and fellow brand ambassador for the Arrive Alive Tour®, brought a virtual-reality, safe-driving message to Dresden High School last week. They will be in six states in the next several months. She says if she can change even one student’s mind, all the miles are worth it.
UNITE’s Arrive Alive Tour® is the nation’s number-one ranked drunk and distracted driving awareness event, as well as the first-and-only marijuana driving simulator in the country. The Arrive Alive Tour uses a high-tech, state-of-the-art simulator that allows participants, through virtual reality, to drive while distracted, drunk, or drugged in a fully functioning vehicle without moving or being intoxicated. The simulation, says the promotional materials, “allows participants to experience the real-life dangers without the real-life consequences.”
UNITE’s Arrive Alive Tour is sponsored by the Tennessee Highway Safety Office. Pat Phillips, the sponsor of DHS’ Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, helped bring a team to Dresden two years ago as part of the FCCLA’s activities. She was asked to help the group return this year.
DHS is one of only five schools in the state where Cochran and Hurst will be in the 2021-22 school year. They are booked in Kentucky, West Virginia, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia in the next several months.
Cochran said she joined the group because she knows what it is like to be a child and in the car with an impaired driver. She shares her personal family experience to help connect with the teens participating.
“I’m the one with personal experience and good with speaking with kids. He’s more of the electronics guy. So together we make a good duo,” she said of she and Cochran’s partnership.
The electronics make up a large portion of the experience as students sit behind the wheel of a real vehicle, apply the virtual reality headset, and then experience a program that provides the sense of what it is like to drive while texting or impaired by alcohol or drugs. Laptops, two flat screen TVs, and tablets are all utilized for the experience.
Once the program concludes – often with a crash or some form of accident – the students are given a ticket recording what their “charge” would have been.
“Younger kids pay attention more because they are not yet driving and don’t feel they already have that down yet,” said Cochran. “And often they see the difference it makes.”