An ounce of prevention
FARMER’S KORNER – An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. The old adage was alive and well Monday at Teen Driving Safety Day, sponsored by the Summit Prevention Alliance (SPA). Summit High students learned first hand the hazards of driving drunk and not wearing a seat belt.
Officers from the Pueblo and Summit County Sheriff’s offices and the Colorado State Patrol ran a series of simulation exercises for the teens.
Wearing a pair of “fatal vision goggles,” students experienced the visual impairment of someone who blows a .10 on a breathalizer test, the minimum reading warranting a charge of driving under the influence.
Officers put students through the same tests they give to drivers suspected of driving drunk. While walking along a strip of yellow and black tape, the students were asked to take 10 steps, placing one foot in front of the other, heel to toe.
The test proved difficult for goggled students as they stumbled off the line and walked more slowly and deliberately than normal, slipups officers note when testing someone they’ve pulled over.
Catching a tennis ball from a few feet away while wearing the goggles was another demonstration of how alcohol impairs vision and perception. It took most students several tosses to catch the ball.
“I would have failed that test with flying colors,” said junior Marcus Burns after taking off the goggles.
Pueblo sheriff’s officers brought along a special car simulator – which they designed – in which students navigated an arcade-like course while wearing the goggles.
“At first, the kids laugh when they watch their friends try to drive and (then) run off the road,” said Michael Mares, Pueblo school research officer. “Then we show them videos of drunk driving crashes in their area, and the room gets so quiet you can hear a pin drop. We also show them interviews with people who have lost loved ones in accidents.”
Summit County sheriff’s officers staffed a winding course of orange cones in the parking lot. Students drove the course in a golf cart, first with no goggles, then wearing goggles to simulate both daytime and nighttime impaired driving.
“I had much sloppier vision with the night goggles on. I hit seven cones,” said Summit High senior Andy Boone. “I wouldn’t want to get on the road if I’d been drinking anyway.”
The importance of wearing a seat belt was hammered home in the “convincer,” a car seat that simulates a 5 mph collision.
“I’m convinced,” said junior Ryan Clift. “I thought my head was going to crash into the steering wheel. I’ll definitely think about wearing a seat belt more often.”
“It gives people a reality check of what it would feel like to be in a wreck without a seat belt” said Colorado state patroller Brett Williams. “Kids are usually pretty good about wearing seat belts; it’s more adults that don’t wear them.”
Perhaps the most convincing testimony for seat belt use, however, was Jeremy Greene. Greene was in a coma for 85 days after a Sept. 7, 1999, accident on Peak 7. He now travels to schools on behalf of Think First, a local brain and spinal injury support group.
“It was the one time I forgot to buckle up,” said Greene. “I wish I would have paid attention when groups like these came to school. My accident was a result of driver experience.”
“We do an event like this every year to target safe driving,” said SPA community prevention coordinator Beverly Gmerek. “We’ve had enough accidents here in the past five to six years that kids are scared. We don’t see a very high rate of underage DUIs. Still, it helps to educate through events like this.”
According to Gmerek, DUIs are down 53 percent so far this year compared to last year.
SPA developed the MasterDrive program after a series of accidents in the county, all resulting from driver inexperience. The driving course is offered once a month, May through October.
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