Duke students see DWI ‘crashes’ up-close

Sep. 30, 2014 @ 04:49 PM


A pedestrian is mowed down by a drunken driver.


A storefront window shatters when a texting driver crashes into it.

Fortunately, the accidents weren’t real. They were part of a high-tech simulation Tuesday at Duke University that showed students what it’s like to get behind the wheel and cause death and destruction.

The UNITE Arrive Alive Tour was sponsored by Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, which lost a brother three years ago when a fraternity member drove drunk and crashed near West Campus, killing his passenger.

“This is an important cause for our fraternity,” said Nic Meiring, a Duke senior who helped organize the event off Wannamaker Drive near Wilson Gym. “It’s one that we want to share with the rest of the student body.”

Meiring, 22, said texting while driving can be as dangerous as driving drunk.

“It’s easy to think it won’t happen to you,” Meiring said. “We want people to see the dangers of driving drunk or while texting, and the simulator does a good job of showing firsthand what can happen.”

Chris Bennett, a simulation technician for UNITE, a health and wellness company, explained to students how the stationary Jeep is fitted with sensors on the steering wheel, gas and brake pedals. After Bennett enters computer information about a driver’s age and alcohol consumption, participants don a pair of virtual reality glasses and start “driving.”

Watch out!

As the impaired driver tries to navigate the road, cars and pedestrians appear out of nowhere, but the delayed reaction time makes it hard to swerve out of the way.

The result: Property damage and bloodshed.

Duke senior Margaret Perry crashed into two storefronts after having two drinks during her time behind the wheel. The damage wasn’t real, but the feeling was.

“The demo is kind of fun, but it also makes you stop and think,” she said. “It’s a different, interactive way of educating people.”

Will McClendon, a 21-year-old Duke senior, hit a pedestrian during the demo after he was programmed with a blood alcohol level of 0.1. That got him a “charge” of vehicular manslaughter.

“It just happened, and I didn’t have time to react,” he said. “So it’s definitely pretty scary to think about, even though it was only a computer simulation.”

McClendon said drunken driving is a big problem everywhere, not just at colleges.

“It’s pretty costly, and a stupid mistake that a lot of people make,” he said. “But it’s easily avoidable. Just call a cab or have a designated driver.”

The Arrive Alive Tour continues on West Campus from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.