Goggles provide crash course on DUIs
Young drivers got to experience what it’s like to drink and drive this week, but without the agonizing hangover or dire consequences.Sophomores from Glenwood Springs High School’s health class donned a pair of “Fatal Vision” goggles, which simulate quite closely the distorted depth perception and blurred vision experienced by a drunk person. They then hopped behind the wheel of a Funland go-cart and drove around the track. Since they didn’t have a drink, students still had the advantage of clear thinking that goes with being sober.”It was kind of hard staying in the lane,” said Vance Wagner, 16. “When I got up I tried to walk but lost my balance after a couple of steps.” Wagner said the glasses helped him realize that being drunk “majorly affects driving capabilities.””I walked with them on and I fell down,” said Shandra Kight, 15.The “drunk” drivers had difficulty staying in the right lane, bumped into each other and the guard rail, and reacted slowly to traffic signals. When a doormat was tossed in front of Kali Gates’ cart to simulate a loose dog, she ran over it and dragged it around the track for several feet. “I didn’t even see the dog,” she said later.The goggles simulate two levels of drunkenness: that of a stumbling drunk with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of approximately .17, and that of an intoxicated person with a BAC of .08-.10.In Colorado, a person with a BAC of .10 or higher is generally considered drunk, or driving under the influence (DUI); a BAC of .05-.099 is considered driving while ability impaired (DWAI). Drivers under the age of 21 are considered impaired if they measure a BAC of .02.The program, called “D.U.I. Before You Die” (DUI BYD), was started last year by Mitch Heuer, the owner of Funland, located south of Glenwood Springs at the Cattle Creek exit.Heuer now oversees the nonprofit DUI BYD organization, aimed at educating high school students on the negative effects of drinking and driving. According to the Colorado State Patrol, in 2000 there were 681 traffic fatalities in Colorado. Of those, 76 were teenagers between the ages of 14 and 19. “I just think it’s a big problem,” said Heuer. “I’m more aware of drunk drivers on the road now that I’m doing this.” Since students in the program are ages 15 to 16, they either have or will soon have their driver’s license. Heuer said this is a good age to experience the debilitating effects of alcohol on a driver’s responses.It’s no accident that students are reminded of the consequences of drinking and driving in the spring, said GSHS health teacher Sandy DeCrow. Prom night is this Saturday. After Cody Hillin, 16, ran a red light at Funland, a minor traffic violation, Officer Neil Wagstrom of the Glenwood Springs Police Department pulled him over. “That’s a good reason to stop him,” said Wagstrom as he approached Hillin’s vehicle.Hillin stumbled out of his cart and fumbled for his driver’s license. Wagstrom explained to students the process of a DUI arrest, from the time the suspected drunk driver is pulled over, usually for a minor traffic violation, to the arrest and trip to the police station.He observed Hillin for “clues” that he had been drinking, include bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, an inability to sensibly answer questions and follow directions, and a loss of fine motor skills, which he demonstrated in fumbling for his wallet.Hillin passed one roadside sobriety test with no problem. He was able to recite the alphabet.”That’s because you aren’t feeling the full effects of alcohol,” explained Wagstrom. “A lot of people can’t pass that test.” Health class students are currently studying the effects of alcohol on the human body. Throughout the sobriety test, Wagstrom quizzed them on topics such as how long it takes a body to return to a BAC of zero. Wagstrom also explained what happens when motorists are arrested for drunken driving.Students also viewed a brief program produced by Heuer about drinking and driving.Students don’t have to be drunk to be the victim of a DUI accident, the film warned. They can be the passenger, can be riding in or driving another car, or lose a friend or family member to a drunk driver.After midnight, 50 percent of all drivers on the road have been drinking, the film stated, and an average 30 percent of drivers are intoxicated at any time of day. “A person has driven drunk 80 times on the average before being caught,” added Wagstrom.To bring the message closer to home, students then viewed a series of graphic photographs taken of fatal and nonfatal DUI accidents in the Roaring Fork Valley.After the program, students all agreed that they would reconsider getting into a car drunk.”Well, I wouldn’t have done it anyway,” said Christopher Lechuga, 16.Heuer is hoping to expand his program to all area schools in the future.A handful of sponsors – John Gredig and the Basalt Department, Beattie & Chadwick, and Jeff Leonard of State Farm – are helping to establish the nonprofit. More sponsors are being sought.Cash donations are also sought to purchase equipment, most of which is currently on loan to Heuer, and more Fatal Vision glasses, which cost about $150 a pair. Heuer said he hopes that the program will prompt teens to stop and think before they drink and drive. “The choice is still theirs, obviously,” he said.”Hopefully,” said Wagstrom, “we’ll provide some information here so that they can make some good decisions.”
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