Wearing fatal vision goggles that simulate driving under the influence, Soldotna High School junior Leslie Landess tries to keep a golf cart between the cones set up as an obstacle course in the school parking lot. Riding along is Alaska State Trooper Larry Erickson.
Photo by Phil Hermanek
Soldotna High School students on Wednesday got a glimpse of what it looks like to drive under the influence of alcohol.
A Soldotna police officer and an Alaska State Trooper also were on hand to run the students through a field sobriety test administered to people who are stopped on suspicion of drunk driving.
Many of the students failed.
They weren't driving under the influence, they weren't under arrest, and they hadn't even been drinking.
Instead, the students were wearing specially designed goggles that simulate the visual impairment caused by alcohol and other drugs.
Officer Tony Garcia of SPD and Trooper Larry Erickson were at the school in advance of prom night to promote safety among teens and to contribute to the reduction of alcohol and other drug-related injuries and fatalities, according to the officers.
Following a brief classroom presentation on safety rules, the officers led the students from Alissa Mattson's language arts class to the school parking lot, where they were allowed to drive a borrowed golf cart through an obstacle course while wearing the special goggles.
Students first maneuvered the cart through orange plastic safety cones without having the goggles on.
Then they negotiated the course while wearing the goggles, creating the sensation of driving under the influence.
To the amusement of some of their classmates, several of the students appeared to drive as well with the goggles as without.
Jalissa Stonecipher, a junior, ran the course without hitting any of the cones, whether wearing the goggles or not.
"I felt kind of dizzy," she said afterward.
Stonecipher made three attempts at the course: once without wearing the goggles, once with daytime fatal vision goggles and once with nighttime goggles.
She said the dizziness sensation was the same with the daytime goggles as with the darker lens nighttime goggles.
Leslie Landess, also a junior, said the goggles "made everything foggy and blurry."
"I had to really concentrate to drive," she said.
Senior Brandon King said he did not believe the task was any more difficult with the goggles.
Some students mowed down the cones.
When asked if police and troopers are anticipating a lot of problems with minors drinking on prom or graduation night this year, Erickson said it is difficult to predict.
"Two years ago we had a lot of juvenile-alcohol problems," he said. "This year it's declined quite a bit."
He said he was not sure if social factors or the amount of in-school counseling affects the level of the minor-consuming-alcohol problem.
"If there's a lot of publicity after an incident, alcohol problems decline," he said.
"We haven't had hardly any troubles with minor-consuming this year.
"We had the one juvenile who jumped out of the moving vehicle (on the Kenai Spur Highway) and killed himself," he said.
After that incident, "Minor-consuming-alcohol incidents went down," Erickson said, attributing the decline to the publicity that accident received.
Garcia said, "We definitely had our share of alcohol at graduation parties, but no serious problems last year."
Mattson said SoHi is planning an organized after-prom party in order to keep the night safe for students.
Beyond prom and graduation night awareness, Garcia said he hopes the fatal-vision driving exercise will serve as a kind of reminder for students of the no tobacco, no alcohol, no drugs pledge they made while in fourth- and fifth-grade DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) classes.
"Many kids were committed to the pledge in fifth grade," Garcia said. "Then something changed, whether it was peer pressure or whatever."
Junior Brian Herring said, "You get more experimental. For some it's peer pressure."
Garcia said whether the fatal vision program becomes an ongoing one will depend on the evaluation of this week's activity.
"My opinion is it's a resounding success," he said after Wednesday's exercise.
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