Think you can hold your liquor? Drunk simulator shows the truth

April 26, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

Julie Dunnigan's first time around the track was easy. She followed curves like the ones she drives en route home every day from school.

The second time around, the instructor for the Chrysler Drunk Driving Simulator punched the equivalent of seven alcoholic drinks into the computer. The little car suddenly lurched and failed to respond as if it were possessed.

"It was different," said Ms. Dunnigan, a Carroll Community College student who was one of many students and faculty members who safely experienced drunken driving on the college's parking lot yesterday. "The steering wheel got tighter, so it was harder to turn," she said. "You had to push much harder on the brakes than regular driving."

The simulator was a 1995 Chrysler Neon fitted with a computer that delays response times based on the driver's weight and a hypothetical number of drinks. It is designed to show how alcohol slows a driver's response time. Students and community members who missed yesterday's demonstrations can experience the simulator at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today.

"I was scared at first, but it was a neat experience," said Ms. Dunnigan, a member of BACCHUS, a campus alcohol awareness and education group.

Ms. Dunnigan wasn't the only student to be impressed with the simulator, said Shirley Hampt, president of the Carroll County Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) chapter. Most students who participated in the demonstration ranked it eight or higher on a scale from one to 10 in terms of making its point, she said.

"We feel this would be a deterrent from drinking and driving for our young people," said Ms. Hampt, who has been president of the chapter since it was chartered in April 1991. "Most of the kids said they had no idea it would be like this, that it was shocking or awesome."

Others told Ms. Hampt the simulator very accurately depicted the experience of riding with a drunken driver. "They can compare it to driving without drinking," Ms. Hampt said. "They see it can slow their reflexes."

The positive reactions convinced her it was worth every penny to bring the simulator to Carroll County, Ms. Hampt said. Chapter officials, who worked since last fall to get it here, paid $2,500 a day for the show.

A Maryland State Highway Administration grant paid for yesterday's demonstration, and contributions from county residents and businesses paid today's fee, she said.

"It's making a difference in reaching the kids," Ms. Hampt said. "I think if one of our kids was killed [because MADD didn't sponsor the demonstration], that kid is worth much more than $2,500."

The program, which Chrysler has sponsored with various cars since 1988, travels nationwide and visits about five schools a week, said crew chief Larry Miller.

Most presentations are done at high schools, he said.

"This opens their [students'] eyes up to what it's like to be in the drunk mode," Mr. Miller said. "It shows them the effect of being impaired and that loss-of-control feeling."

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