Simulator lets drivers take the wheel sober, 'drunk'

March 27, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

The drivers will be cold sober when a computerized car shows them what it's like to drive dead drunk.

The Chrysler Drunk Driving Simulator -- one of two in the country -- is coming to Carroll County April 25 and 26.

The 1995 Chrysler Neon is equipped with an on-board computer programmed to delay responses in a way that imitates the

impaired abilities of a driver under the influence of alcohol.

"Drivers will see the effects of driving drunk but without the dangers," said Shirley Hampt, president of the Carroll County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

About 400 drivers will have a chance to get behind the wheel. The program targets teens and young adults.

"It will allow us to make students more aware, right before prom time, of the dangerous situations which can occur when you mix drinking and driving," said Chris Miller, grant coordinator for the Carroll County Health Department.

"Younger, inexperienced drivers are not as able to compensate for what the computer does to the car."

Ms. Miller said a high incidence of alcohol-related deaths in the county led her to organize the event.

"We had 18 crashes and 25 deaths last year," she said. "Eight of those accidents involved alcohol or drugs."

College and high school students can reserve drive time through school guidance departments about a week before the car arrives.

A grant from the State Highway Administration will cover the cost of bringing the car to Carroll Community College for one day -- from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 25.

MADD joined several other community organizations to reserve the car for the next day at the Career and Technology Center. The groups are trying to raise the $2,500 fee. After contacting area businesses, they have raised about $1,100, with Griffith Auto Park and Wheeler Chrysler-Plymouth making large donations, Ms. Miller said.

"We are committed to the project and will have to pay regardless," said Ms. Hampt. "I feel we will meet the goal for the whole amount."

The expensive project is worth the price, she said.

"If it teaches people and we reach one kid a day, it is well worth the money," she said. "Think of the dollars involved in crashes."

Licensed drivers, accompanied by a trained instructor, will take two turns at the wheel.

First, the driver will navigate the pylons lining the figure-eight course and avoid the "pedestrian figures" that will pop up along the route.

Free from the influence of alcohol, a motorist has ample time to react on the first trip. The operator then enters into the computer the weight of the driver and a number of drinks -- one drink would equal one ounce of alcohol. As the alcohol "kicks in," the driver has increasing difficulty braking and steering on the same course.

"They will see first hand that their reflexes just aren't there," said Ms. Hampt. "The young think they are invincible, but they will see why they can't mix drinking and driving."

Organizers have scheduled several other drunken-driving deterrents. Vince and Larry, the crash test dummies, will be in attendance.

Participants also will be able to tour a Maryland State Police MedEvac helicopter and the Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education (DARE) van and test the state police Seat Belt Convincer.

"We have a high rate of fatalities due to lack of seat-belt use," said Ms. Miller. "We are focusing on 15- to 24-year-olds, but we want everyone to come and watch."

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