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Chris Pilcic
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New Braunfels, Texas,
16
May
2017

Always On Duty

Distracted driving simulators developed from personal tragedy and professional experience

Like many stories, it started with a twist of fate. More than twenty years ago, Otto Glenewinkel lost two friends in a violent traffic crash. Three others were critically injured. Otto was supposed to be in the same car that crashed, killing two of his friends.

Fast forward to present day. This personal tragedy as a young man drove Otto to encourage safe driving. He also become a Texas State University Police Officer.

Distracted driving is dangerous

Driven to discourage distracted driving

In his day job, Otto, a New Braunfels resident, works as a Crime Prevention Specialist, eight hours a day. Nights and weekends in a college town can be lively, but Otto spends them quietly, often alone, in his two-car garage focusing on his non-profit work.

He’s building tools that prevent lively weekends from turning into potentially deadly ones. He invented an electronic driving simulator he calls the DwiPod.

Otto’s passion to teach teens about distracted driving dangers stems from not only personal tragedy but professional experience. His tools present a realistic experience. Users are seated with pedals, at a steering wheel, with a large TV screen and loud speaker, presenting driving simulations that introduce distractions and obstacles.

In the most recent data from 2015, The Texas Department of Transportation reports more than 106,000 crashes in the state were caused by driver inattention; nearly 400 of those crashes involved fatalities.

Gaming assists in development

Otto is an avid video-gamer which has helped him create a highly technical product. He and his son first started experimenting using impairment goggles and a popular auto racing game. It was the enjoyment in the lesson and his son’s reaction that made him realize something important. Teenagers could relate to an interactive learning tool to teach best driving practices.

“It’s a fun, engaging program for them to get to drive and experience real life situations. It’s something many young adults would like to try, anything like this that is fun for them, but in the end sends a message: not to engage in distracted or impaired driving,” shared Otto.

Otto’s customers include universities, hospitals and police departments. Recently, the Plano, Texas Police Department purchased a DWIPod with a $15,000 grant from State Farm.

“Hopefully it’s going to teach them to make the right decision,” says David Tilley, Plano Police Department’s Public Information Officer. “The more we can educate people on the dangers associated with (distracted driving) that is going to make it less likely for someone to take that risk and that is what this product allows us to do.”

The Plano Police Department is currently using its simulator for community safety events and high school visits. Otto has delivered a total of 33 handmade simulators reaching tens of thousands of Texas students.

 New technology presents new opportunities

Otto continues his research and development to improve his simulators. He recently introduced state-of-the-art virtual reality goggles that simulate impairment, rollover crashes and distracted driving dangers using realistic 360 HD Virtual Reality videos. Otto also partners with Allan JP Beaton, owner of IASystems Computer Controls. Together they are putting final touches on a motorcycle simulator that will promote motorcycle safety.

Otto’s work is geared to help reduce the number of distracted driving crashes, not only where he lives in the Texas Hill Country, but for students across America where his simulators are being used.

In a 2016 survey conducted by State Farm, 80% of teenagers asked admitted to using their smartphones while driving. Teenagers admitted to using their devices to navigate, communicate, browse the web and take pictures and video. The teenagers said they understand using their cellphone behind the wheel is dangers, but admitted to it being a habit to stay in touch with friends and family.

“If we can keep one person from drinking and driving or driving impaired and that saves one other person, just one, everything I’ve ever done with this program is worth it,” says Glenewinkel.

For more information you can reach Otto via e-mail at otto@dwipod.com.