Under the experience

by Town Reminder

Under the experience
Students simulate driving impaired
By Kristin Will
Staff Writer

SOUTH HADLEY – In an effort to prevent drinking and driving in a season of celebrations – namely prom and graduation – the South Hadley Police Department brought fatal vision goggles, traffic cones and golf carts to the high school to give students a dose of reality.
The idea, which originated with New Jersey State Police, is to let students experience the effects of operating impaired, giving them “a feeling of not necessarily driving in a vehicle, but close to it,” said School Resource Officer Steven Fleming.
Last Thursday, junior and senior students arrived at the school’s lower field to find a driving course set up, outlined by bright orange cones, through which they had to navigate wearing the fatal vision goggles of a variety of strengths, including a pair three times the legal limit and a night vision pair.
“It’s practical and it’s a powerful message,” said teacher Jake Masenior, who has used fatal vision goggles in his science classroom in the past to explain the effects of drugs and alcohol to the nervous system. “And it’s nice for students to interact with the police in a positive way,” he said.
Fleming and Officer Doug Percy from the South Hadley Police Department were on hand to demonstrate the task. The officers and Masenior accompanied each student, who signed a permission slip to participate, onto the course in the golf cart. The students had to wear the goggles while walking to the golf cart and turn on the ignition, a task with which many struggled.
Next they had to navigate down a relatively curvy coned-off “road.” At the end, they needed to execute a three-point turn, reverse the cart and drive back down the “road” to where they began.
At the very least, the majority of students struck three cones. One student, Jiayin Sperry, a senior, struck 18. “I thought I was doing really well!” she said.
And although it may have seemed amusing, it was clear the students quickly realized the severity of driving while intoxicated.
“It’s definitely a challenging experience and I think kids realize that,” said Sperry. “People are like ‘whoa,’” she said. “It teaches what it’s supposed to, I feel like.”
Despite this exercise simulating just one aspect of driving intoxicated – the students maintained their normal reaction time and did not have any physical effects distracting them from their driving – the demonstration made an impact. After hitting four cones and completing the exercise, one astounded student said, “No one should drive drunk!”
Hannah Fleming, a junior, agrred. “It’s definitely a lot harder than just driving regular,” she said. “You’re out here feeling like what it really feels. It will prevent you from going out and doing stupid stuff.”
Prom was held over this past weekend and South Hadley Police Chief David LaBrie was happy to report there were no incidents of South Hadley students driving intoxicated and there were no accidents. “I thought it [the demonstration] was great,” he said. “It’s helpful even if one or two kids were impacted by it.”
The use of the golf carts was donated by Ledges Golf Course and the traffic cones were provided by the Department of Public Works.