U.S. Army Europe Soldiers get realistic look at perils of drinking and driving
A Soldier with U.S. Army Europe's 12th Combat Aviation Brigade tries out the Save A Life Tour simulator that demonstrates the effects of driving under the influence of alcohol, during a SALT presentation in Heidelberg, Germany, Aug. 24. The responses of the simulator's steering wheel and pedals are delayed, impairing reaction time and causing drivers to overcompensate, swerve and crash, as they do in real-life drunk driving situations.

HEIDELBERG, Germany -- A Soldier slips behind the wheel of the car, turns the ignition key, puts the car in drive and starts down the highway. A moment later the alcohol in the Soldier's system begins taking its toll and the car veers further and further off the road.

His vision blurs and the car becomes harder and harder to control. A moment later he runs a red light and slams into the red minivan. He won't make it home today.

But luckily, this accident has a reset button. It all took place on a simulator, and everyone is OK -- and hopefully a bit wiser.

This interactive training experience is part of the Save A Life Tour, or SALT, and its goal is to help participants to sincerely understand the consequences of driving while impaired. The simulator is the centerpiece of the SALT, but the program, presented by a Michigan-based entertainment company, also includes high-intensity videos, dramatic props and presentations by SALT "tour guides." It has travelled to schools, bases and other venues across the U.S. and Europe.

"SALT's relationship with the military began about eight years ago and (it) has travelled to almost all Stateside installations and a large number of overseas installations as well," said Patricia Tooson with the U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Wuerttemberg Army Substance Abuse Program. "The intention of this training is to reinforce one primary message, and that is: drinking and driving kills."

SALT program manager Andrew Tipton stands beside an open coffin. Real photos of drunk driving victims circulate through the crowd, which sits up and listens closely as he lists the unfortunate statistics and cites several real-world examples of where drinking and driving can lead.

The program is intended to be hard-hitting, Tipton said, designed to graphically illustrate the potentially fatal consequences of drunk driving, not sentence its audiences to "death by PowerPoint." It's that punch, presented by what the SALT web site calls the "shock jocks of anti-drunk driving," that helps SALT participants to take what the program teaches to heart.

Soldiers eagerly lined up for a chance to experience the SALT driving simulator, anxious to get a safe but realistic first-hand look at the effects of driving while impaired. Invariably they walked away amazed at how difficult it is to control a vehicle after drinking alcohol. Most made remarks such as, "This is tougher than I thought" or "I thought this would be easy, but it's no joke" after taking a simulated spin.

"Participants leave this training with increased knowledge, but also importantly, they leave with the thought of being mindful of their drinking, mindful that their choice can be lifesaving," Tooson said. "Choices have consequences, and to see the message hitting home is remarkable."

"The consequences of high-risk choices are great," she added. "One life, one career, one family, or one person's freedom lost to drinking and driving is one too many."

The SALT program is scheduled for future stops at most major installations across Europe.

Page last updated Wed August 29th, 2012 at 00:00