October 20, 2021

Crash course

Sheriff’s office gets impaired-distracted simulator

Shenandoah Briere/contributing photographer

James Bonds II of Simulators Systems International watches as Cortland County sheriff’s Officer Peter Wright tries the department’s new driving simulator. The simulator shows people what it is like to drive distracted or impaired. Wright had to drive while texting and wearing goggles that simulate alcohol impairment.

As the phone next to Cortland County sheriff’s Officer Peter Wright dinged, he slowed the vehicle, grabbed the phone and proceeded to send a text while occasionally glancing at the road through the Fatal Vision goggles.

Then he crashed.

He was OK, though; it was only a simulator. But if he didn’t come away with bruises and a wrecked car, he did come away with a better of idea of just how hard driving is when impaired or distracted.

“It’s hard to stay focused on driving,” Wright said.

“There’s a whole different way you perceive things,” Capt. Rob Derksen said.

Officers from Homer, Cortland City and the sheriff’s department and someone from the Cortland County Health Department trained Wednesday were trained on how to use the simulator. The sheriff’s department bought it 2017 for $11,000 with state Stop DWI grant. However, the simulator didn’t arrive until the end of 2018.

“It took me a long time to get this,” Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms said. “We don’t really have anything like that in the county.”

Drunk and drugged

Here’s a look at tickets issued to drivers from 2009 to 2017.
• Tickets in Cortland County decreased by almost half, to 320 tickets from 601.
• Tickets in Tompkins County decreased 44 percent, to 411 from 734.
• Statewide it dropped 24.7 pecrcent
SOURCE: Rosenblum Law Firm

Texting/driving risks

These are the facts about texting and driving in the United States:
• Twenty-six percent of all crashes in 2014 involved cell phone use.
• At least nine people die every day because of a distracted driver.
• More than 1,000 people are injured every day due to a distracted driver.
• In 2015, 42 percent of teens say they have texted while driving — the leading cause of death in teens.
• In five seconds, at 55 mph, a car will drive the length of a football field.


An instructor can change variables on the simulator like weather conditions and road scenarios, while having the participant wear fatal vision goggles or use their cellphone.

“It tries to simulate as many situations as possible,” Derksen said.

Now that the department has the simulator, Helms said it will be put to use educating drivers about the risks of impaired or distracted driving.

“We’re often asked to go to several places and do presentations,” Helm said.

Helms said the simulator is tentatively scheduled to be used March 27 at Cortland High School.

Derksen said that by using the simulator, students will better retain the information the department is teaching. “I think it will captivate the students’ attention and engage them in the lesson,” Derksen said.

Helms said this year the department got just under $6,000 in grant funding — with the majority of the money going toward buying a trailer for the simulator. Groups and organizations can also request to use the simulator by contacting the sheriff Helms.

“It’s basically going to be a shared utility,” Derksen said.