Simulator provides virtual experience of driving drunk
April 19, 2012
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (April 19, 2012) -- Sitting behind the steering wheel with his foot on the gas, Scott Marko swerved and sped through city streets. That is until he T-boned another car that was turning onto the road in what would have been a fatal crash.
It looked like Marko had a few too many drinks before taking the wheel. But the partnership specialist at the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation was completely sober.
As he safely walked away from the virtual "crash," Marko was shocked.
"It's kind of like, 'Wow. I have no control over what I do,' " he said of the experience.
Marko was one of many drivers on post who wrecked a virtual car last week during the two-day National Save-A-Life Tour at McGill Training Center. The traveling program visited Fort Meade on April 11 and 12 with its multimillion dollar drunk-driving simulator to encourage drivers not to get behind the wheel while intoxicated.
The Fort Meade Army Substance Abuse Program sponsored the event for a third consecutive year in observance of Alcohol Awareness Month.
ASAP coordinator Samson Robinson said the virtual drunk-driving program is beneficial to everybody as it helps deter drinking and driving.
"Our goal is to save lives, so anything that we can do to save lives we're in the business for," Robinson said.
Tour manager Andrew Tipton is quick to point out that the Save-A-Life Tour is not an anti-drinking campaign. Instead, the program promotes thinking responsibly when taking a drink.
"Be smart and be responsible" are the main points he stresses.
Tipton opened each session with a 15- or 30-minute video of what he calls "blood, guts and gore." The videos display actual footage of accidents caused by drunk driving and their aftermath.
"It just shows what happens when you drink and drive," Tipton said. "It shows people getting hurt, people getting injured and people getting killed."
When the video started, Marko said he wasn't too interested. But the graphic images quickly caught his attention.
"It got more intense when it went on," he said.
Following the video, Tipton explained to participants how the drunk-driving simulator works and that they can take the car for a spin, with an added buzz built into the system.
As drivers progressed through the simulation, Tipton continued to increase the level of intoxication.
Much like with real drunk driving, the system is designed to delay the driver's reaction time. The steering wheel and pedals are all on a delay, forcing participants to overcompensate, which ultimately results in crashes -- just like in a real situation, Robinson said.
"It makes perfect sense why it's so hard," Marko said after using the simulator.
The simulator also contains three screens, but Tipton has learned that most people don't even look at the side screens, which represent the driver's peripherals.
"All of a sudden, when you start driving, you lose your peripherals," he said. "Once that delay starts happening and you notice yourself swerving, what they focus on is that line and the curb. And all they want to do is go straight. ... Drunk drivers completely block out everything going on around them."
While individuals are using the simulator, their driving is displayed on large screens so the audience, too, can see the difficulties of driving while impaired.
After their drunken drive through the virtual town, participants were given a traffic ticket -- most of which stated "fatal collision."
Both Robinson and Tipton said the experience on the simulator can come as a shock for many participants. Robinson said that on a few occasions, people have had to regain their composure before getting back into their real vehicles.
"It has an extreme effect," he said. "Some people come and they do it like it's not a big deal. But some come and are shocked from it."
Tipton said he knows he can't reach everybody with the simulator and that it only works for people who want to learn from the experience.
Maj. Leonard Fama of the Northeast Information Operations Center, a Massachusetts Reserve unit, said the simulator was "far-fetched" and would be better with beer goggles to actually impair vision.
But Fama acknowledged the simulator "gets the point across."
Marko, who has participated in the tour several times, said people can learn different things each time they attend and that it is a beneficial tool to help fight drinking and driving in the military.
"They need to do this all the time, without a doubt," he said.