Texas Man Builds Simulators to Combat Distracted Driving

A Central Texas man is passionate about keeping impaired and distracted drivers off the road.

"I want to stop one person from killing someone or killing themselves in an alcohol-related accident," said Otto Glenewinkel, of New Braunfels.

Glenewinkel, a crime prevention police officer at Texas State University in San Marcos, spends his spare time at home designing and building portable driving simulators to demonstrate the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.

"I've always been a big video game person, got into playing some driving games," said Glenewinkel, whose non-profit company is called DWIPOD, for Driving While Impaired Portable On Site Demonstrators.

Virtual reality goggles provide the DWIPOD user a distorted view of the realistic driving scene shown on the screen, demonstrating the effects of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and making it impossible to drive the simulator safely.

"Usually when you drive drunk, you're intoxicated, so you don't remember the things that you do," Glenewinkel said. "When you drive one of the sims, you're not intoxicated so you remember how hard it is to do the things that you're doing."

More than 20 years ago, two of Glenewinkel's close friends were killed in a traffic accident, and three others were seriously injured.

"Everybody's lost someone related to alcohol or drugs or something like that," Glenewinkel said. "If I can keep one person from dying, everything that I've ever done, every simulator I've ever built, is worth it."

Glenewinkel charges just $15,500 for his standard simulators, far less than commercial competitors.

"I can build these cheaper than anybody else," he said. "If you can do it cheaper and get them out there to more people, go for it, I'll help you."

About 30 simulators have been sold throughout Texas over the past eight years, most of them purchased by hospitals and police departments, including Plano police.

Prevention specialists at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service take the portable simulators to college campuses, helping to demonstrate the dangers of texting behind the wheel.

Spending just a few seconds in the simulator, students discover it's impossible to drive safely while texting.

"Keeping your eyes off the road for five seconds just to read a text alone, if you're doing 55 miles an hour, you travel the length of a football field," said Mike Guidry, program coordinator for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

"If we can just make them think for a second about what they're going to do on Friday night before they get into that car and drive, our chances of keeping them out from behind the wheel go up exponentially," Glenewinkel said. "They really do."

So far this year, through October, the Texas Department of Transportation reports 22,704 crashes in Texas involving driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, with 903 of them resulting in 1,026 deaths.

Distracted drivers were involved in 91,426 crashes statewide, with 333 of them causing 372 fatalities.

That's what keeps Glenewinkel designing and building driving simulators at home in his garage.

"It's a passion," he said. "If I can keep one person from dying, everything's worthwhile. Everything."

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