Simulation aims to put brakes on impaired driving
Teen drivers comprise just over 5 percent of Alaska's licensed drivers, yet they typically make up over 20 percent of total motor vehicle fatalities and 30 percent of major injuries. A total of 17 percent of fatal and major injury crashes involved an alcohol-impaired teen driver.
In an effort to put the brakes on these sobering statistics, th?Homer Police Departmen?began Project Drive. The educational clinic puts youths in the driver's seat of a specially designed go-cart. At the same time, they wear "fatal vision" goggles that simulate blood alcohol levels varying from .07 to .25 and more, and either day or night conditions — to learn first-hand the effects of drinking and driving?
Since beginning, Project Driv?has grown from supplementing health curriculum at Homer High School, to a stand-alone program with its own curriculum that reaches out t?youth from all schools on the southern Kenai Peninsula. The annual average number of minor consuming alcohol arrests have declined from 16 to 5.8, and the annual average number of minors being charged with operating a vehicle after consuming alcohol has gone down from 7.8 to 3.2. During this same time frame, the average annual number of DUI arrests declined from 102.6 to 75.8.
Grant support from the Alaska Highway Safety Office has greatly contributed to the program's success? Funds have allowe?HP?to acquire their own side-by-sid?UTV, a transport trailer and safety equipment to be able to offer program benefits to other schools on the southern Kenai Peninsula? The program's popularity has spread statewide with requests to present clinics at events like the State Youth Court Conference, West High School's Medical Academy in Anchorage and a Palmer-Wasilla Town Hall Meeting?
The Alaska Highway Safety Office continued its strong support of the program this year, granting $39,488 to the department to encourage program continuation and expansion?Their support also covers the added personnel and travel costs associated with taking the program to other Alaska communities.
HP?is committed to working collaboratively with local and surrounding area schools, youth groups, and other agencies, in an effort to keep these positive changes happening? Sergeant Ryan Browning, one of the program instructors, described the program.
"Not only do we get to show teens first-hand the dangers of driving while impaired while in a safe environment, we get to build positive relationships with the kids and there is no greater measure than that," he said. "We believe in this program and its outcome? Our take home message is we know we can't stop kids from drinking....that's a choice they will make for themselves at some point in their lives, but what we can do is hit home the message that if they make that choice, to please, please stay out of a vehicle."