Eighteen-year-old Mark Christie, apparently intoxicated, ran over a child in the Columbia Mall parking lot Friday. But luckily for him, the child popped up again, unbruised, and Christie wouldn't go to jail.
The child was a yellow figure used in the Dodge Drunk Driving Simulator program, which imitates the experience of driving under the influence of alcohol. And Christie was one of many curious, sober drivers who test-drove the red 1992 Dodge Daytona.
The car is equipped with a lap-top computer programmed to simulate the delayed steering and braking reactions of a person under the influence of alcohol.
The simulator was created five years ago by Chrysler Corp. to discourage adults and teen-agers from drinking and driving.
"It really shows how terrible it is to drink while you're driving," said Christie, an Oakland Mills High student. "It was reallyscary to not be able to stop."
Driving the Dodge convinced him not to drink and drive, said Christie.
"I would never drink and drive. I wouldn't want to have someone's death on my hands," he said.
His passenger, Jon Maravetz, 18, said he felt helpless and unable to trust his friend, whose driving abilities were impaired.
The eventwas sponsored by the county's chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the county Police Department. Adults and teen-agers with validdriver's licenses participated.
An instructor accompanied the drivers, whose weight and hypothetical number of consumed drinks were punched into the computer.
All day Friday, drivers ran over the remote-controlled silhouettes, as they failed to maneuver the jerking cararound the curving 150-by-200-foot course, felling dozens of orange traffic cones.
The cones represented obstacles, such as trees and parked cars. "When (the drivers are) doing really bad, I tell them that was a line in the movie theater," said Steve Moschetti, an instructor.
He said the Dodge tours the United States annually and will visit Maryland schools over the next two months.
Friday's event began the program in Howard County.
Last year, 21 people died in traffic accidents in Howard County, 51 percent of which were alcohol-related, according to MADD.
Across Maryland last year, 708 people died, 45 to 50 percent of them in alcohol-related accidents, said Frederick W. Chaney, of the State Highway Administration.
In 1990, national traffic statistics showed there were 44,529 vehicle fatalities across the country, 49.6 percent of them alcohol-related. More than 40 percent of all teen-agers' deaths result from accidents, and 50 percent of those involve drinking.
Ecker said he believes the Dodge simulator will deter people from drinking and driving.
"If it just sinks in to one person, we're happy," said Bonnie Cook, Howard County MADD vice president.
Cook recalled the flabbergasted reactions of two teen-agers who once rode in the Dodge: "One guy got out and wiped his forehead. 'Wow,' he said.
"The girl was screaming all around the course. She realized she didn't have control of the car."
Nationwide Insurance said 30,753 Maryland students have pledged to not drink and drive on prom night as part of the insurance company's Prom Promise campaign.
"They can save a life by making this promise," saidSue Rowand, a spokeswoman.