They've hooked up a steering wheel and pedals to the game to give it some authenticity.
The grad students are giving students at Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va., one chance to drive the course without distractions -- other than the 800 other sophomores watching the big screen in this auditorium.
The second time around they ask one of the driver's friends to send a text, which the driver has to try to read.
"She got the call -- [she's] looking down, oh, as soon as she looked down, we had an incident," says doctoral candidate Haneen Zaqer of one student's actions.
She says even the drivers who showed the most skill without distractions usually crashed within a few seconds of glancing down to read the first text.
Katie Manning, 16, was one of the test subjects.
"When I'd pick up a phone, and I just stopped concentrating on the wheel and then I looked up at the screen and my car was sideways..if this were real life, I'd be in trouble," she says.
Westfield is the first high school Zaqer and her colleagues have visited with their simulator and they're planning to visit more schools soon.