Student get taste of drunk driving without tasting alcohol

Warren County high school students got a feel for what it is like to drive while slightly inebriated, and what it is like to take a field sobriety test while under the influence.

No one was actually drinking or using drugs, but some special technologies simulated being under the influence for the participants.

Youngsville and Sheffield students had their turn on Wednesday, then Warren and Eisenhower students participated Thursday.

The events were held in cooperation with local police departments and the Warren County Probation Department.

A specially modified Volkswagon Beetle that has an option to simulate a one-drink, impaired driver was used. When the option is turned on, steering and braking inputs are delayed seven-tenths of a second.

Mike Martin, event coordinator, designed and built three “Safety Bugs” for the Pennsylvania DUI Association. He travels across the commonwealth each school year, doing about 130 events annually.

He said that the delay takes away the driver’s reaction time, and most drivers in the Beetles don’t even try to react when the car doesn’t respond, which is equivalent to how one drink of alcohol affects the brain.

Martin rides in the front passenger seat to control settings that cause the vehicle’s steering to lose its finesse and prompt the braking mechanisms to become unpredictable. The result is an unsettling episode for the teen in the driver seat who gains a firsthand perspective of what it feels like to drive under the influence.

While licensed teenage drivers are able to experience The Safety Bug from a vantage point behind the wheel, an equally valuable lesson is afforded backseat passengers. The youth who are “along for the ride” soon realize the helpless position they would be put in as passengers in the car operated by an impaired driver.

The Eisenhower students were accompanied by Eric Shotts, a teacher and Students Against Destructive Decisions advisor. “Sometimes experience is the best teacher. They (the students) had a fun experience, but it was also a learning experience. It’s supposed to be fun, but it brings awareness as well,” he said.

Warren County Sheriff’s Deputy Dee Klakamp gave the students a field sobriety test, where they walked heel-to-toe for nine paces, then turned and repeated it. They also had to stand on one foot while holding the other foot out, toes pointed, and counted aloud.

It wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds, because the students were wearing Fatal Vision goggles that simulated either drug use or a .07 to .1 blood alcohol level.

Eisenhower senior Sarah Smith said, “It was scary. I thought I was going to fall over.”

Emmalee Anderson added, “It was fun. It was hysterical.”

Brennan Garris talked about driving the Safety Bug saying, “It was difficult. When you turned one way it wouldn’t turn right. It was pretty bad.”

Martin noted that the delaying option can be turned off, so the vehicle can be driven on roadways safely.

More information on the program is available from padui.org.