Driving 'Drunk' on Purpose To Learn Grim Lessons
04/24/2012
Eldersburg Patch

View Clip

Maryland high school students got a crash course in driving drunk and what can happen afterward in a campaign to raise awareness about driving dangerously.

While up to 3,000 Maryland motorists a year make a trip to the Sykesville Driver Training Facility and its tactical driving course, a visit from a group of high school students Monday was the first of its kind, facility administrator Dan Dazzo said.

Instructors had one message: Drive safely, or risk death.

The grim reminder comes just in time for prom season, and daylong programming included a driver's course wearing DUI goggles, participating in field sobriety tests, lecture and testimony. It was organized by The Maryland Community Crime Prevention Institute, the Department of Public Safety and the Sykesville facility.

Safety experts told 30 juniors and seniors visiting from a Liberty High health class that no booze, text or conversation is worth risking their lives and the lives of others. The high school's prom is May 5.

MCCPI instructor Bruce Lohr led some of the day's activities and said for parents, it's essential that they manage the activities they know teenagers are bound to participate in by not being naive to it.

"It's important to create an environment where it's safe for kids to call for a ride," he said. "Deal with the circumstances later."

The effort is the first time the agencies have coordinated together with a school to get the word out about how dangerous drunk driving, texting and other distractions can be, with more classes planned in the future, said MCCPI spokesman Mark Vernarelli.

Lohr told the students how he has twice been the victim of crashes involving someone driving under the influence: once while he served with the Howard County police department, in his cruiser on his way to work, and once in a personal car.

"But the worst part of my job was telling a family someone died," he said. "I'd rather get in 10 bar fights by myself than do that."

After an hour of lecture, the students were shuttled to the facility's tactical road course. It is used regularly as a practice field for police agencies throughout Maryland, since Montgomery and Prince George's counties are the only others with a similar course in the state, Dazzo said.

Students filed to and from a parked bus to an unmarked Crown Victoria, where they immediately donned "Fatal Vision" goggles, which simulate inebriation effects, and took off down the road to maneuver a course filled with cones and turns.

Dazzo set the speed limit at 25 mph, but most students had trouble moving past 10 or 15 on the odometer.

"I'm a good driver when I'm sober, I promise!" Alanea Kriete, 17, said after getting three bright orange cones stuck in the right rear wheel shaft while trying the eyewear.

Students at the event were winners of a lottery. Teacher Jeremy Davis said he pulled 30 names at random out of an envelope to give each of the 90 upperclassmen enrolled in the class an opportunity to attend.

Dazzo added a personal note to the lesson, which sought to raise awareness about all types of dangerous driving. His son died three years ago in a car accident caused by a driver with a learner's permit, he said.

"I know there's a lot of you who go out there and think, 'I'll be OK,'" he said. "Today's not my day I think about (my son) every day."