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Manitoba Public Insurance aims to curb distracted driving with VR

DRIVR-X is an immersive experience to show Manitobans the hazards of driving while distracted.

Sydnee Chiborak, a Grade 12 student from Transcona Collegiate, test-drove Manitoba Public Insurance's new distracted driving simulator during a demonstration for students Friday.

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski / Metro

Sydnee Chiborak, a Grade 12 student from Transcona Collegiate, test-drove Manitoba Public Insurance's new distracted driving simulator during a demonstration for students Friday.

Though drunk driving has become largely taboo, Manitoba Public Insurance revealed new technology Friday meant to curb distracted driving, a scenario where many drivers still fall prey.

DRIVR-X is a virtual reality experience where participants don goggles and hop in a stationary vehicle to “drive” while plagued by distractions.

If passengers pick up the phone accessory to “text,” chances are good they will injure or kill themselves or someone else within the five- to seven-minute span.

MPI invited teens from Transcona Collegiate to test-drive the technology Friday.

Afterward, Grade 12 student Brooklyn Shymko — who admitted to texting and driving in the past — said she wouldn’t be doing so anymore.

“You always think, ‘Oh, it’s not going to happen to me.’ But it happens,” she said, after “virtually” hitting a pedestrian.

Ward Keith, MPI’s vice-president of loss prevention and communications, said the virtual reality experience was a natural next step after MPI’s last distracted driving simulator.

“In talking to young people, we were just looking for what technology would really resonate with them… and the simulator, as cool as it was three years ago, it’s pretty normalized now,” he said. “(Virtual reality) is leading-edge and it’s still new to a lot of kids.”

Keith said DRIVR-X will tour around high schools and community events this summer. Its VR experience can also be updated in the coming years to reflect new driving issues that arise or persist, he said, like not wearing seatbelts or driving while stoned.

With marijuana legalization expected to shake down by next summer, Crown Services Minister Ron Schuler said the government can use tools like DRIVR-X to boost awareness about drugged driving.

“We’re going to have to always be in the forefront of it now, not just (about) distracted driving, but also smoking up,” Schuler said. “These are serious things not just for young people who struggle sometimes with decisions because (they think) they’re invincible, right?... But also people who are affected because somebody drove distracted or stoned or drunk. There are consequences for both sides.”

Sydnee Chiborak, another Grade 12 student who tried the demo Friday, said the DRIVR-X equipment was an effective way to teach young people the risks of getting behind the wheel.

“Especially if you were the one getting into the accident, I think it would have a big impact on you,” she said.

Distracted driving is a leading cause of fatalities on Manitoba roads, according to MPI, killing nearly 30 people per year.

VR as a teaching tool:

MPI isn’t the only local company capitalizing on virtual or augmented reality as a teaching tool.

The Canadian Beverage Container Recycling Association launched a contest last summer with an app allowing smartphone users to track their recycling habits for a chance to win prizes, like a trip to Churchill and Winnipeg Blue Bombers tickets.

Tied to the 25th anniversary of the Cinémental French film festival, Corey King developed an augmented reality app allowing users to interact with Winnipeg history. Trivia about more than 30 city sites is available through the app, which was launched in October.

A virtual reality exhibit allows museum-goers to immerse themselves in Guatemalan culture. Weaving a Better Future examines the power of female-run artisan cooperatives and explores their role in furthering human rights.

With files from Braeden Jones

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