Martinsburg High – VA

Simulators teach students about risks of drunken and distracted driving

Monday, April 11, 2011


A drunken and distracted driving simulator put ninth- and tenth-grade students behind the wheel last week at Martinsville High School.

The nationally touring “Arrive Alive” program visited the high school not only to educate students about the dangers of drinking and driving, but also to show them that texting and driving can be just as dangerous.

The program targeted ninth- and tenth-graders because they are learning to drive, or will be soon, and organizers hope to prevent unsafe driving habits before they start.

“With traffic accidents being the leading cause of death for teens, we wanted to show them this. A lot of teenagers think texting and driving is safe,” said Carrie Metzger, Project Success counselor at Martinsville High School, who organized the event with School Resource Officer Vollie Norris.

The Arrive Alive simulator is a real car with the battery disconnected so it cannot move, hooked up to a virtual reality program that simulates the effects of alcohol or distracted driving. Students took turns getting behind the wheel with virtual reality goggles on and then tried to “drive” along a video game course.

Students first tried driving the simulator under normal conditions, and then with a twist: for the drunken driving simulation, the computer system slowed down the response times of the car’s brakes, steering and other controls to mimic the actual effects of alcohol on the body. In the texting simulation, students received a real text message while “driving” and had to type a response back while maintaining control of the car.

Most ended up crashing. Their progress on the simulator was shown on laptop screens for other students to watch.

Student LaVonne King went through the drunken driving simulator and crashed.

“It was difficult,” she said. “I’m never drinking and driving.”

After students went through the simulator, Martinsville Police officers demonstrated the importance of buckling up, even at low speeds, with a “seatbelt convincer” device on loan from the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office. The seatbelt convincer allows riders to safely experience what a low-speed car crash feels like. Participants were strapped into the chair, then rode down a track and crashed into a bumper at five to 10 miles per hour.

Also, Martinsville police officers had students try on “drunk goggles” that blurred their vision to mimic the effects of alcohol, then did field sobriety tests on them. Sophomores Khadija Tarpley and James Strawn stumbled and weaved as they tried to walk a straight line wearing the goggles.

James said he saw double when he looked at Officer E. Dillard during the test. “I couldn’t tell which was an illusion,” he said. “There’s no way you can drive like that.”

“If you can’t even walk straight, what makes you think you can drive?” Khadija added.

Arrive Alive facilitator Storn Olson said he tried to emphasize to students that getting a DUI is “a life-wrecking event as far as their finances and futures are concerned. Your insurance rates go up through the roof. You lose your license, your vehicle gets impounded, there’s a whole drawn-out court case, hundreds of hours of community service, and the DUI stays on your driving record forever.”

Above all, he told them, “If there’s alcohol in your system, the driver’s seat of a car is the last place you want to be.”

The program was done in partnership with Martinsville City Public Schools, the Martinsville Police Department, Piedmont Community Services, Youth of Virginia Speak Out on Traffic Safety (YOVASO) and Helping Empower Youth (HEY!). It was funded by the school’s Project Success grant.

Kim Barto is community outreach and grants coordinator for the Martinsville schools.