Virginia Students Take Spin in ‘Safety Bug’ that Mimics Drunk Driving

April 4, 2008

Salem (Virginia) High School students got firsthand experience with drunken driving on a recent morning.

Almost 100 students buckled into the Safety Bug, a yellow Volkswagen Beetle designed to mimic the effects of drunken driving. One student maneuvered around the course while others sat in the back seat wearing Fatal Vision goggles that simulate alcohol-impaired vision. Behind the goggles, the scene unfolds as a blur of pavement framed by bright orange smudges.

“It was really hard trying to keep it (the car) on the tracks between the cones,” Andy Conner said after driving the Safety Bug and flattening several cones.

The car’s unexpected movement “makes you brake harder and steering is just crazy,” said Julian DiFrancesco.

The idea is that after struggling with the car’s erratic motions, the students will think twice before drinking and driving. It’s a lesson that Edgar Moser, Salem High’s driver education teacher, has tried to spread for the past eight years.

“I teach like I like to be taught,” he said.

That means the lessons are one-on-one and usually interactive. Moser invites speakers to his driver education classes, and meets with students before and after school for lessons.

Virginia State Police Trooper Allen Mann said that the majority of the accidents he works involve drivers who overcorrected their vehicles while distracted.

Distracted drivers are “as dangerous, if not more so, as someone who’s driving drunk,” Mann said.

Mann and other law enforcement personnel led students through a lesson on a Virginia State Police go-cart. The driver goes around the course once for familiarity, then again wearing the Fatal Vision goggles. The participant learns how alcohol inhibits driving, and onlookers see how an inebriated motorist drives.

The students learn “in a safe, controlled environment,” Mann said. And “we have fun.”

“If we can keep one person from drinking and driving … it’s a success,” Mann said.

Five years ago, Moser started the SCAT club — an acronym for safe, courteous, attentive and ticketless. That club is now also linked with Lookin’ Out, and is part of a safe-driving program sponsored by Erie Insurance.

Moser started the club with a budget of $100. Since then, he has won grants from Erie Insurance, which sponsors the Safety Bug, and Youth of Virginia Speak Out a teen safe-driving group. Moser said that he uses the money to fund an annual safe-driving rodeo and other things in an effort to get the community involved in safe-driving efforts. The rodeo usually is held on Memorial Day weekend, one of the worst times for traffic accidents, but attendance has waned.

“I wish it would catch on fire,” he said about his hopes for the event’s future.

“We’ve been here in the blazing sun before, and you’d get 25 to 30 people.”

This past Tuesday, he and the students sat through the heat, and a brief drizzle of rain. It was the first time that Salem’s Lookin’ Out club hosted a safe-driving activity during a school day.

Pat Pollifrone, a member of Lookin’ Out, smoothly steered the Beetle around the curved line of orange traffic cones at one end of a parking lot.

“Give it some gas,” said Mike Martin, Safety Bug coordinator.

Pat did, the car jerked and shifted as he drove faster and faster around the course of orange cones.

The car, not the driver, is “drunk,” Martin later explained to a group of students. Alcohol is a depressant, so it slows down one’s reaction time.

“If you look at the statistics, the driver lives and kills everybody in the car.”

“If you’re a passenger, your whole life is in their hands,” Martin told the students of riding with a drunken driver. “You are trusting them not to kill you.”


Information from: The Roanoke Times,

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