Anti-DUI message at YHS

Youngsville High School, Youngsville Borough Police, PennDOT, and the groups associated with the DUI Memorial are hoping for only good memories of this holiday season.

To that end, the Operation Safe Holiday program visited Youngsville High School on Thursday. “You wouldn’t want to celebrate your holiday with either a DUI arrest or worse,” Cathy Tress, law enforcement liaison for the Pennsylvania DUI Association, said.

Students started off with a quick message delivered by Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) Advisor Alice Nichols and Pennsylvania Traffic Injury Prevention Project Northwest Regional Coordinator Mary Lakari.

The next step was the simulator. A student sat in front of a screen and operated the virtual car. There was a steering wheel, accelerator and brake pedals. The screen put up images of what they might see from the driver seat of the car. There were two programs – distracted driver and impaired driver.

“Students nowadays are all about technology,” Lakari said. “We thought this would be effective.”

The programs are similar in effects, with longer response times being the major change. “They impact the same driving skills,” she said. “When they start to text they’re all over the road.”

And the dozens of students behind are watching. “The rest of the audience is very engaged,” she said.

The impairments slowed the response times of the equipment to simulate the slowed responses of a drunk or high driver. The drivers in that portion of the program also wore Fatal Vision goggles to further hinder their abilities.

“It was really difficult,” Katie Gustafson said. “It’s blurry and your depth perception is off and you just can’t see as well.”

The distractions consisted of a passenger who gave the driver directions and a touch-screen cell phone the drivers were expected to use to call and text the passenger’s family. The room full of students behind them added another level.

“It was hard… kinda scary,” Savannah Pollow said. “The passenger telling me what to do and trying to focus on the road… throwing the cell phone in there made it harder to focus.”

“It makes me realize how important it is to keep your eyes on the road,” she said.

“That was very difficult,” James Frazier said.

Frazier said he took away several valuable lessons from the simulation. “I probably shouldn’t use my phone or listen to people while I’m driving and to make sure everyone is wearing their seat belts,” he said.

Frazier made it safely to the passenger’s destination, but “most of the time I was going under the speed limit.” At another point, he had the vehicle over 70 miles per hour in a 55 zone.

Most of the other drivers crashed – there were other cars, pedestrians, deer, signs, buildings, and other obstacles.

Depending on the severity of the result, the drivers would be faced with a police officer administering field sobriety tests, escorting them to a police cruiser and subsequently to jail, or an ambulance, emergency helicopter, or even a group of doctors operating on them.

The students then heard from Youngsville Borough Police Chief Todd Mineweaser. He explained the field sobriety tests and that people can be charged with driving under the influence even if their blood alcohol level is not above the legal limit.

If the simulator didn’t bring the message home, the wall with the names of 3,000 victims may have. “The Memorial Trailer, that’s where the reality can really set in,” Geoff Crenshaw, project coordinator for the Northwest Regional Highway Safety Network, said. “These are the ones that didn’t make it.”

Each student walked through the DUI Memorial Trailer and were asked to respectfully look over the wall and its many names. Only the names of victims, not of impaired drivers, are on the wall, and only those whose families have requested their loved ones be included, Tress said.

The trailer is a mobile replica of the permanent DUI Memorial in Harrisburg, she said.

Each student, except for the members of SADD, participated in the program for less than an hour.

But there is a big reminder in the front yard.

Mineweaser escorted the students from the classroom to the front yard of the school where a wrecked minivan contributed by Koebley Towing waited. Students were invited to pledge that they would not drink and drive nor text and drive as they signed their names to the damaged vehicle. Those who wanted to write a memorial message were welcome to do so.

“Take it seriously if you sign this car,” Mineweaser said. “This vehicle will sit in front of Youngsville High School for the next week or two.”

“For the DUI Association and PennDOT to put this together is just a blessing for us,” he said. “This has been in planning for almost a year.”

“These things are good reminders before the holidays,” he said.

“The holiday season – between Thanksgiving and New Year’s (Day) – has the highest rate of DUI,” Tress said. Between holiday parties and the compounding effects of cold and flu season medications with alcohol, more impaired drivers are on the roads.

The adults in charge of the program believe many of the students were engaged and will remember it. “We try to reach them any possible way,” Warner said. “This is one way to reach them.”

“It’s a life-saving measure,” Tress said. “We try to save lives.”