UNITE’s Arrive Alive Tour visited Worcester County’s three high schools last week, providing students and teachers with a virtual firsthand experience of driving under the influence.
UNITE’s Arrive Alive Tour program uses a high-tech simulator, impact video and a number of other. resources to educate the public about the dangers of intoxicated driving. The simulator allows participants to experience the potential consequences of impaired driving in a controlled environment.
“We specifically targeted this time of year because we have a lot of things coming up for students; prom, graduation, senior week, which are celebratory events and we want them to make good decisions during the celebrations,” Tamara Mills, coordinator of instruction for Worcester County Schools, said.
The simulation last week allowed students and faculty members to choose from three options: driving under the influence of alcohol, driving under the influence of marijuana or texting while driving.
“It started as a drunk driving simulator,” Heidi Martinez, safety driving awareness instructor for UNITE’s Arrive Alive Tour, said at Stephen Decatur High School last Wednesday. “What we saw was that texting while driving was more of a problem at high schools. Now that marijuana is being legalized, we’re talking to people about safe practices and to do safe things behind the wheel.”
One of the most commonly recognized driving distractions is cell phone use. About 89 percent of all Americans have a cell phone, according to CTIA – The Wireless Association.
The damage created by distracted driving is high, causing 1.6 million accidents per year with 400,000 injuries and 5,000 deaths, Martinez said.
Penalties for driving while texting have become more severe as a result. Getting caught texting while driving can lead to a $500 fine and a point on your license, which increases car insurance by 19 percent for two years, Martinez said.
“As a community, we created this problem and as a community we can solve it,” Martinez said.
Drivers under 20 years old have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Their lack of driving experience can contribute to critical misjudgments if they become distracted.
Nearly one-third of all traffic deaths involve alcohol-impaired drivers. Every two minutes, a person is injured in a drunk driving crash. On average, two in three people will be involved in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime, Martinez said.
“Even the most experienced drivers can see the effects it has on you and the others on the roadway,” Mills said. “It’s important for us to help our kids make better decisions every day. I appreciate the community support to educate our youth and make our youth and community aware of these issues.”
For students, it was an opportunity to realize just how dangerous it is to get behind the wheel under the influence or while distracted.
“I think it’s a very informative simulation to see what would happen under the influence,” senior Nellie DeHart, 18, said. “It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. There was a lot more swerving and it was much more difficult.”
DeHart chose to simulate a Blood Alcohol Concentration of .15, which is far beyond the legal limit of .08.
“It’s very hard to control where to go and what you’re doing,” junior Brad Moore, 16, said.
Moore, who chose a drunk driving simulation, ended up with a citation for four counts of manslaughter, driving below the speed limit and driving on the wrong side of the road. The experience was “eye-opening,” he said.
“I didn’t see [the simulator pedestrians] when I was coming up, so they just popped up in front of me,” Moore said. “That would have affected my life forever.”
The charges Moore accrued during his simulation were fake, but the experiences shared by Stephen Decatur alum Timmy Gingrich were very real. Gingrich was invited last Wednesday to talk to juniors and seniors about killing someone while he was driving drunk.
“It brought that personal, local touch,” Mills said. “Sometimes that’s what they need, is to be able to relate to the experience.”
The overall goal of the exercise was to ensure students will make smarter decisions on the road.
“I watched a number of students participate and they all made comments about how eye-opening the experience was,” Stephen Decatur High School Principal Tom Sites said. “Most of them discussed how difficult it was to stay on the road.”