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'Driving' under the influence of ... a computer

• COC students use a simulator to learn about driving under the influence.

Posted: April 1, 2008 12:55 a.m.
Updated: June 2, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Twenty-year-old Nikki Rivera says she doesn't drink. Behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Aveo, she drove through a parking lot and hit 12 out of 45 cones with her blood alcohol content registering .5 percent.

She hadn't had a drop of alcohol.

A second-year psychology student at College of the Canyons, Rivera was one of a number of students Thursday who took a test "drive" in a DUI simulator. The event was hosted in the student center by the college's ASB.

Sitting in the driver's seat, students slipped on a pair of virtual reality goggles displaying a computer-generated view of a road, then tried to "drive" the vehicle.

"We're trying to bring a hands-on approach to learning the dangers of drinking and driving," said Josh Krystiniak, one of the team members of Professionals Encouraging Educational Reform Statewide, the company administering the simulator, the full name of which is PEERS AWARE III Simulation System.

PEERS is in its first year of existence and is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It sends three teams to different schools across the country during the semester with its DUI simulator. Krystiniak estimated that his team will visit 250 to 300 schools this semester.

The simulator gives drivers three driving tests - the first as if their blood alcohol content were zero, the second with a .12 to .18 percent level, and the last at .5 percent. As each test raises the virtual blood alcohol level of the driver, it raises the number of driving impairments that a drunk driver might experience.

Tunnel vision or blurred vision plague the virtual driver as he looks through the goggles. Also, the simulator impairs the driver's ability to correct mistakes. Driving too fast around a curve and swerving into the opposing lane? It's much harder to turn that car into the correct lane with the simulator - just as it would be for a real drunken driver in an actual driving situation.

When asked if the test had dissuaded her from the least possibility of driving drunk in the future, Rivera replied, "Definitely."

On her final test, the computer took her through a simulated driving course with virtual traffic cones lining the way. With a virtual blood alcohol content level of .5 percent, she hit 12 out of 45 cones, even though she was driving under the speed limit of 25 mph.

The PEERS display also included the HBO special "Smashed, The Tales of Teens & Alcohol," and a questionnaire to determine the level of education of drunk driving.

"An alcohol-related motor vehicle crash kills someone every 31 minutes and non-fatally injures someone every two minutes. True or False?" the questionnaire asks.

The answer is "True."


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