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December 16, 2010   Email to Friend 

DUI PROGRAM STEERS TEENS TOWARD SAFE DRIVING
Debra Davis

Students in south Alabama recently received some first-hand knowledge of why drinking and driving is so dangerous thanks to members of the Baldwin County Farmers Federation.

The county Federation sponsored a program that, by using specially designed goggles called Fatal Vision, gives students the feeling of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs while trying to negotiate a driving course and taking a field sobriety test.

David Bitto, president of the Baldwin County Farmers Federation, said the county organization spent about $7,500 to purchase the customized John Deere Gator, a trailer to transport it and the special goggles.

"If we can save one life through this program, every penny that was spent will be worth it," he said.

The reaction from the students has been entertaining but serious, said Federation Area Organization Director Paul Brown who implemented the program in the schools. Brown also took the opportunity to tell students about slow-moving vehicle signs and to watch for tractors and other farm equipment on the road. "Most of the students show up laughing, and we want them to have a good time," Brown said. "But when they get in here and put their hands on the wheel, it becomes serious, and they realize, 'Man, this is a lot tougher than I thought it was gonna be.'"

The drivers wear goggles that simulate a .07 and .25 blood alcohol level, turning the relatively simple task of driving the utility vehicle through a path of safety cones into something much more difficult.

Cedric Yelding, the drivers education teacher at Daphne High School, said he's been teaching the class for eight years and the addition of the program sponsored by the Baldwin County Farmers Federation helps drive home a message he's been telling for years.

"It's easy to see that this is making an impression on them," Yelding said. "Hopefully, they will learn that it is impossible to drink and drive safely. Once they look at all the cones they've run over or when they see how difficult it is to pass the field sobriety test, they learn it's a lot more difficult than they first thought."

Tyler Beard is one of Yelding's students and was among those who participated in the program this fall. He turns 16 in April and is already looking forward to getting his driver's license, but has a better understanding now of why he should never drink and drive.

"It was tough," he said after wearing the goggles and taking the tests. "I almost fell down during the field sobriety test. And driving - forget it - I couldn't hardly see the cones. I think everyone who has driven this course has killed a few cones." Tyler said the experience has definitely opened his eyes to just how impaired a driver can become after drinking alcohol. "It's like driving with kaleidoscope glasses," he said. "I think the program is a great idea. It was very educational and I hope everyone gets to do it."

Tyler's classmate, Sarah Morrow, is scheduled to get her drivers' license this month. She agreed with Tyler's assessment. "It was a lot harder than I thought," she said. "Just walking on a straight line was really, really hard. I almost fell down just trying to walk. I won't ever drink and drive."

The Alabama Department of Public Safety partnered with the Baldwin County Farmers Federation in the project by providing officers to assist with the programs. State Trooper Greg Eubanks is a public information officer for the department who joined Brown in visiting schools in Baldwin County. Eubanks talked to students and administered the field sobriety tests.

"Most of the students were excited about participating, but they are getting the point about how serious this really is," he said. "The department is very happy to help the Farmers Federation with the Fatal Vision Program. Our main goal is to promote traffic safety and to help protect the lives of these young people and the lives of all the drivers on the road. This exercise teaches these students just how hard it really is to drive impaired."

Monroe and Escambia County Farmers Federations are partnering with the Baldwin County Federation to bring the program to those counties, Brown said.


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