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Caltrans Plays Games with Distracted Driving

10:32 AM PST on December 16, 2015

Screen shot 2015-12-16 at 9.51.46 AM

Was this tweet a joke?  Why would Caltrans promote a potentially distracting video game called “The Distraction Zone”?

But no, says Caltrans spokesperson Jason Probst, or rather yes: it's real. The game is part of a promotion for the work zone awareness campaign, “Be Work Zone Alert,” and Caltrans is giving away a cash prize for the best score.

In the course of thoroughly researching this post, your hardworking SBCA editor tried it out for you, from the safety and comfort of my very own couch. Now I can somewhat authoritatively say that, eh, ahem, well, er... it could be a fun game, for a few minutes anyway. It might be a good distraction for tykes strapped into car seats in cars stuck in traffic. It could even succeed in teaching a thing or two about driving safely.

You have to pay attention to the road, to the speed limit—which keeps changing—and to the coned-off work areas.

Cops appear behind you instantly if you don't slow down immediately - so that lets you know that it's definitely fantasy. Yes, I got a few speeding tickets before I figured out where the speed limit sign was, and I lost points when I ran over a few cones.

Caltrans was unable to confirm or deny whether the game's smog and greenhouse gas emissions monitor features had been disabled. Rumors are that the software developer working on emissions gamification was recruited away by Volkswagen, but that's just hearsay.

On the other hand, it was super easy for me to ignore the phone on the console that kept offering up texts about upcoming parties. Who are these people anyway? And why the heck is there a phone placed right in the driver's view? I know that's a thing, I know people do it—but why is Caltrans tacitly giving this practice the agency's okay?

Use the comments below to let me and Caltrans know how the agency might better invest public dollars, instead of developing, promoting, and rewarding a fun but ultimately silly pro-driving video game.

And let me know your high score in the comments too. Just please don't play this game while actually navigating traffic.

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