Teen driving safety class on Long Island

Drive Square, a Virginia-based company, uses a simulator

Drive Square, a Virginia-based company, uses a simulator to show kids what it's like to drive while texting or drunk. The company is participating in a workshop for teens and their parents at the West Islip Fire Department on Saturday, March 29, 2014. (Credit: Drive Square)

Monique Cobb is used to teenagers screaming when they're driving her car. That's because they've just hit a pedestrian, or a child on a bicycle, or gotten into a crash.

"They're, like, 'Oh my gosh!'" Cobb says. "I think we put the fear of God in them."

Cobb is operations director for Drive Square, an Alexandria, Va.-based company that takes a simulator to gatherings of teenagers to show them what can happen if they drive while texting or after drinking.


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Each student sits behind the wheel of an actual car and dons a headset that puts him on a virtual road. Then, he "drives." The car doesn't move, but sensors on the gas pedal, brake and steering wheel cause the car in the driver's virtual vision to respond to his actions -- or inactions.

To simulate drinking and driving, the simulator delays the response time when the student hits the brake to mirror the delayed reflexes of a drunk person. To simulate texting and driving, the driver must answer a text while driving the simulator. "We have found it to be very effective," Cobb says.

Drive Square is one of the participants in a Keeping Teens Safe on the Roads program Saturday for teens ages 15 to 18 and their parents. The program is being offered by Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, in partnership with the Aram R. Chowdhury Memorial Foundation, and it will be held at the West Islip Fire Department. It's free, but preregistration is required.

FREE LUNCH AND RAFFLE

Participants will receive a complimentary lunch, and each student attending will be entered in a raffle to win a $1,000 college scholarship from the Chowdhury Foundation, which Ellen Chowdhury and her family established to help educate teens about risky driving behaviors.

Aram Chowdhury, who graduated from Half Hollow Hills High School East in Dix Hills in 1994, was home for his first Thanksgiving break from the University of Vermont when he went for a ride with a friend whose parents had just given him a sports car. "An 18-year-old, what does he want to do? He wants to show off. He was speeding on a local road," Ellen Chowdhury says of the driver. Aram was in a coma for nearly two weeks before he died. "I had to do something to make my son's death have some meaning. The heartache is always there."

SHARING HIS STORY

Saturday's event will include a testimonial from accident survivor Chris Memoli, who suffered traumatic brain injury after his junior year at Sachem High School, when he was a passenger in a car that was racing with another car and veered out of control. He is unable to speak; he communicates through a voice activation machine.

"Without my speech it may take a minute or so to answer some of the questions, so they get to see what we all take for granted and what I struggle with," Memoli explains on his website, chrismemoli.com.

RULES OF THE ROAD

Other scheduled activities include nurse Maureen Sheridan, director of trauma services at Good Samaritan, describing car accident injuries that she sees in teens coming through the emergency room. And retired Suffolk County Police Officer Paul Failla, a 27-year veteran of the department, will give a lesson on driving laws.

"My goal is to get people to realize the importance of safe driving and adhering to the rules in order to avoid a possible tragedy," Failla says. Failla has been working with Chowdhury for years on the mission of protecting kids.

Chowdhury is a nurse at Good Samaritan; her husband, Faizur Chowdhury, is an endocrinologist affiliated with the hospital, and Aram was born there. That's why the couple wanted to partner with Good Samaritan for the driving seminar.

As for Good Samaritan, educating teens about safety is part of its mission as a community health resource, says Theresa Jacobellis, the hospital's assistant vice president of public affairs and marketing. "We are a trauma center, so we do see a high number of these injuries in teens. It's something we wanted to address."

WHAT Keeping Teens Safe on the Roads, for those 15 to 18 and their parents

WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m. check-in and 10:30 a.m. to 2p.m. program Saturday at the West Islip Fire Department, 309 Union Blvd.

INFO Free, but preregistration required; includes complimentary lunch; 631-376-4444, goodsamaritan.chsli.org

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