Car takes young drivers on sobering ride Simulation teaches effects of alcohol

March 31, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

The Dodge wobbled and jerked. By the time it came to a stop it had flattened two traffic cones, nearly side-swiped a fence and left its driver with sobering thoughts.

The driver, Frank Wills, an 18-year-old senior at Lake Clifton/Eastern High School, was not drunk, but the car was outfitted to respond as if the person at the wheel were under the influence of alcohol.

"It was harder than I thought it was going to be," Mr. Wills said. "This gives you a chance to see that you can't control yourself."

Mr. Wills was one of about 150 city high school students who took part in a drunken-driving simulation as part of the Project Prom Night Youth Workshop yesterday outside La Fontaine Bleu in Northeast Baltimore.

The driving simulation was performed in a modified Dodge Daytona equipped with an on-board computer programmed to delay the car's steering and braking response time in accordance with the driver's weight and the number of drinks consumed.

Sponsored by the city, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Maryland Safety Council and the state Department of Transportation, the simulation was intended to show the drivers' slowed physical and mental response abilities.

A trained instructor was with the students in the car at all times.

Since the project began five years ago, there have not been any alcohol- or drug-related traffic fatalities in the city involving students on prom night, according to Vanessa C. Pyatt, of the city Department of Transportation.

The driving simulation was expected to visit several city high schools this week.

As the car swerved and veered around the small course at the La Fontaine Bleu parking lot -- the teen-age drivers seemingly having little if any control of it -- the effects of what alcohol can do seemed to leave deep impressions on the students watching.

"It's scary. It [alcohol] just takes control of you," said Kiara Hargrove, 18, a senior at Polytechnic Institute. "Since everyone says this generation is going to be the future, this message should be showed all year long," she said.

Many of the students said they have no intention of using alcohol on Prom Night.

"Everyone wants something to do when the prom ends, but everyone I know can have a better time if they can see straight," said one student. "I have a buddy who drives like this when he's sober. You can imagine how he drives when he's drunk.'

And many have decided to use the same approach to Prom Night as Mr. Wills: "The way to avoid all of this is to just go ahead and rent a limo for the night," he said. "That way you don't have to worry about anything."

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