By Chris Levy and Jessica Sorensen
Every day, people drive intoxicated more than 300,000 times. Some 3,200 of them are arrested, leading to fines and legal complications costing in excess of $10,000 — and worse, injury or death.
These are facts about the dangers of distracted and impaired driving distributed by Unite’s Arrive Alive Tour.
The tour made a stop at the Loxahatchee Groves campus of Palm Beach State College on Wednesday, Oct. 31, where it used resources including a high-tech simulator and impact video to simulate, in a controlled environment, the potential consequences of distracted and impaired driving.
Kent Tiedman and Mallory McKenzie were on hand to administer the simulation, which had three settings.
The first simulated texting while driving. The second simulated driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.12 to 0.19, which Tiedman estimated was between three and six beers, depending on a number of factors, including age, gender, weight and recent food intake. The final test simulated driving while high on marijuana after smoking just one joint.
Tiedman noted that about one million drivers are arrested annually for driving under the influence or while intoxicated.
Katherine Kato-Burke, president of the Campus Advisory Board, who was involved in bringing the Arrive Alive Tour, was dressed in costume as an accident victim.
“[The Campus Advisory Board] works behind the scenes to bring these events to fruition,” Kato-Burke said.
Tiedman estimated that by mid-afternoon, at least 40 students had tried — and failed — the simulator, and they were then written simulated traffic citations. Most of the students received those infamous tickets that carried legal complications and fees in excess of $10,000. They were the lucky ones, as several participants suffered simulated catastrophic and fatal accidents, often involving other vehicles that took the lives of participants playing sober drivers.
Among those to attempt the simulator was Jessica Sorensen, a student at the Loxahatchee Groves campus and an intern at the Town-Crier.
“I simulated texting while driving, driving under the influence of alcohol and driving under the influence of marijuana,” Sorensen said. “All three cases were disorienting and created a slow reaction time. It was difficult to judge my speed and the distance of objects from me. I ultimately ended up crashing in all three simulations.”
Others simulating the impaired and distracted drivers included Carlton Morgan, who simulated driving under the influence of marijuana. Morgan said that while he felt he was in control, he could not stop the car in time when an oncoming vehicle approached.
“My car just spun out,” Morgan said. “It was scary.”
Morgan said that this simulation would deter him from driving under the influence.
Ethan Bennett simulated driving while drunk. “The entire thing was really disorienting,” he explained. “I ended up crashing into a car because I reacted too slowly.”
Bennett said that the simulation changed his perspective. “I feel like you may not realize the lack of awareness when drunk driving,” he said. “This put it into perspective for me. It’s scary.”
This did not come as a surprise to McKenzie.
“Many people are surprised by how much [the simulated experience] alters your awareness,” she said. “They tend to absorb it and really take it in.”
McKenzie added that those who are overconfident in their driving abilities “tend to be the ones arguing tickets and blaming everyone but themselves for accidents.”
The Arrive Alive Tour is in response to the staggering accident statistics that plague the nation’s roads. According to Unite, “Every two minutes, a person is injured in an accident that involves drinking and driving. On average, two out of three people will be involved in a drunk driving accident in their lifetime.”
An issue relevant to the college-aged students at Palm Beach State College is the issue of texting and driving. Many of them feel confident in their ability to text while driving, but during the simulation, Sorensen experienced a catastrophic accident when simply attempting to text “happy birthday.”
As she began to text, her simulated vehicle slowed from 40 to 20 miles per hour, and she missed a truck moving through a construction zone that resulted in a T-bone collision.
Unite provided more statistics that were in stark contrast to the perception of the confident teens who attempted the texting while driving simulator.
Research indicates that texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than drinking and driving. Of all the teen drivers involved in fatal accidents, 21 percent of them were distracted by their cell phones. The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.
To learn more about Arrive Alive, visit www.arrivealivetour.com/unite.