Students get 'crash' course in dangers of drunken driving

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DRAPER -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 25 percent of teen drivers killed in a car accidents had a blood-alcohol level over the legal limit. One company is showing Utah teens the consequences of impaired driving with a unique program.

Students at Juan Diego High School got behind the wheel for a "crash" course in the dangers of drinking and driving Monday.

In 2006, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers ages 15 to 19 was almost two times that of their female counterparts. -CDC

"It starts to freak you out, and you can't do it, and you end up crashing," said Mac Baird, a senior at Juan Diego.

Students were in the driver's seat of a virtual simulator that mimicked the effects of driving under the influence, without the danger.

"You move the wheel one way, and it really delays it," Baird said.

The simulator is a real car linked to a computer program. Sensors pick up on the driver's actions. Think of it like a video game but with a frightening twist: The program can simulate any blood-alcohol level and the delayed reaction time associated with it.

When Baird tried it out, the simulator was set at .081, just above the legal limit.

"I think I hit two people during my simulation," Baird said. "I had one guy jaywalking, and I hit him. Then I lost control of the car and hit another person."

Bill Taggart is a DUI awareness instructor with UNITE, the company behind the simulation. He said most fatal accidents involving alcohol happen at or near the legal limit, when drivers think they're still OK to jump behind the wheel.

In 2008, about 3,500 teens in the United States aged 15-19 were killed and more than 350,000 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor-vehicle crashes. - CDC

"When you have alcohol in your system, you don't realize how slow you are reacting to things. You think everything is happening in real time, but it's actually more like a tape delay you are reacting to," Taggart said.

"It's one thing to have me or their parents or a pastor tell them, ‘This is going to be something that is going to harm you, harm other people. It could affect the rest of your life.' When you, in fact, see it happening and experience it happening in a safe environment, it probably carries a little more weight," said Juan Diego Assistant Principal Chris Long.

The simulator made quite an impression on Baird.

"I don't want to do it. I don't want to do it ever," he said.

Other students KSL News talked to also say the simulator made an impact, telling us they will never drink and drive.

The simulation factors in gender and body type. The company said it's extremely accurate. It's even used by police and fire departments, and the military for training.



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