A South Plains College student entered an SUV parked on campus and proceeded to intoxicate himself before driving away, running a red light, and slamming the vehicle into a tree.
Then he exited the vehicle so another student could try.
This drunk and distracted driving simulator came to SPC on Nov. 6 for an event called the Arrive Alive Tour, organized by health and wellness group UNITE.
The organization has been around for nearly 12 years, making stops at places such as college campuses, high schools, and even corporate events such as factory safety demonstrations. Their mission has always been to develop educational programs to demonstrate the hazards associated with all forms of distraction behind the wheel, including drunk driving, distracted driving and texting while driving.
In a report released by the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Safety Administration in 2014, it is mentioned that 28 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver each day, averaging around one death every 51 minutes. It also was reported that the annual cost of accidents involving alcohol totals more than $44 billion.
It is safe to say that education on this subject is vastly important to public safety, and, for students, that’s where the Arrive Alive Tour comes in.
The simulator uses an actual SUV, complete with some electronic modifications to make the recreation possible in the computer software.
A Bluetooth sensor under the steering wheel tracks tire movement, with the front wheels propped up on rotating discs to allow them to move freely. Another Bluetooth sensor under the pedals responds to the gas and brake, and all the signals are transmitted to the computer running the simulation program.
A virtual reality headset is then fitted onto the driver’s head, and he or she can look around and interact with both the car and their environment as if they’re behind the wheel in various scenarios controlled by the operator.
There are two modes inside the simulator: one for drinking and driving, and one for texting and driving.
In each module, a driver is given a simple driving task such as following a mountain road, or navigating empty city street grids.
For the drinking demonstration, several drinks worth of impairment are added into the simulator. Suddenly the driver experiences a number of difficulties, such as delayed steering input and head movement tracking lag.
For the texting and driving simulation, the driver is given the same driving task, but is then instructed to pull out their phone and type various messages while still maintaining control of the vehicle and obeying the speed limit.
Both modes, with each of their unique impairments, can quickly cause a dangerous situation on the road, resulting in swerving into other lanes, and even leading to a collision with other vehicles or obstacles.
According to UNITE, the program is a great way for students to learn about the dangers of impaired driving in a safe environment that can “impact your entire campus with positive messages that will last a lifetime.”
“It was pretty scary, honestly,” said Evelyn Daniels, a student who attempted the drinking and driving simulation. “I think if more people could do this before they go out and have a problem, it would make a big difference, and there would be less DUIs and people dying.”
Jeff Peterson, another student who tried the texting and driving mode, thinks it could be a great way to bring these issues to light for those getting ready to drive for the first time.
“Fundamentally, it’s good education,” said Peterson. “Maybe it needs to go to more of these younger students and not just colleges.”