Hamburg Resident Has Long Quest to Improve Driving Safety

6:35 PM, Jul 25, 2013   |    comments
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HAMBURG, N.Y. - What many take for granted, William Gates of Hamburg has been wanting to do for years. And for about four years Gates has been fighting an uphill battle.

"I've been wanting to drive all my life," he said. "Yes it makes me mad, a little bit because here I'm trying to help save lives."

Gates' story starts when he was a child and was diagnosed with epilepsy, which triggers seizures. Gates still lives with the condition. And even with medication, the seizures can become violent. Four years ago, he attempted to do what he's never been able to do consistently -- get behind the wheel and drive -- this time with a learner's permit, but something happened.

"Instead of hitting the brakes, I hit the gas pedal and I had it in reverse and I backed out into a car that was across the street from our driveway where we lived," Gates said.

To avoid another crash, Gates rides his bike just about everywhere.

After getting in that accident he got an idea.

"When you talk to the instructor that's there about what you did wrong, he helps you figure out a way that you can do better and not get in the same accident again," and that, "his thought to me was if I had a driving simulator in the neighborhood, I could've practiced with the simulator before driving."

Gates has been taking that idea and 'riding with it.'


For four years, he's been sending letters to lawmakers, school districts and the Hamburg town and village boards -- asking them to take a look into bringing a driving simulator to local areas -- whether it be a school or a community center.


"So the true power of a simulator is that you can do things over and over again and safely, without endangering lives or endangering property or other vehicles," said Kevin Hulme, senior research associate at UB.

On the university's north campus, sits a driving simulator lab, where experts have been using it to do research. Students can also use it for class work. And, it's also available to some who have attention disorders.

"The active driving is primarily cognitive, it's primarily mental, so the best thing to do with a simulator is take a teen and put he or she in here for three or four hours and see how cognitively the teen will react," Hulme said.

In the simulator, drivers can practice starting and stopping, making turns and avoiding trouble on the road.

And when the simulator is in operation, you can hear sounds, as if you were actually on the road.

The simulator could help anyone, but especially young drivers, seniors or people with disabilities.

"For example people with ADHD, or perhaps, post traumatic stress disorder, a simulator is an ideal training ground with which to retrain these types of drivers," said Hulme.

Like Gates, who's gotten the attention of James Bodziak, the superintendent of Frontier Central School District.

"If we could get into some sort of joint collaboration with these other municipalities, we might be able to do something through a community education program," Bodziak said.

The problem is cost. Driving simulators can range from $1,000 to more than $100,000.

"In this time and age, it would be silly for us to bring this into the school district, when in fact, we've been cutting staff and programs," he said.

Gates has also gotten the attention of Senator Mark Grisanti, who's convinced driving simulators are good investments. 


"There's a lot of different high schools, if they're interested in doing it, we're going to reach out to them, talk to them and see who wants to get involved in this type of program," Grisanti said.


And that money for some schools interested in simulators could be received within six to eight months.

"There's actually bullet aid, that is going to different schools and libraries in my district and with that bullet aid, if a school is interested that is something that we looked into that you can use to purchase one of these simulators," he said, and that, "[we need] the school district basically, stating that this is something that we would like to have."

"The school districts we're going to be contacting and saying hey, are any of you interested in trying to get one of these simulators in your school?" Grisanti added.

And that's the vision of one William Gates. He's gotten frustrated at times, but says he'll keep fighting to improve driver safety.

"If no one wants to get involved, I may give up, but I've been told not to give up and just keep trying," he said.

Grisanti says he's reached out to Toyota, which has studied driving simulators to see if the company would help fund a simulator locally.


Meantime, UB is recruiting 15 and 16-year-olds who are learning how to drive to participate in their program, which requires 10 hours of commitment.


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