Simulation warns high-schoolers of impaired driving dangers

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Fike senior Holly Hooks wasn’t sure what to expect when she put on a pair of goggles and got behind the wheel Thursday morning.

“I’m kind of nervous,” Hooks told a Wilson County sheriff’s deputy seated beside her. “I’m trying to be cautious.”

Hooks continued to maneuver her way around several cones wearing “drunk goggles.”

When she finally finished the impaired driving course, she said it was an eye-opener.

“It’s definitely more than I thought it was going to be,” she said, adding that looking through the goggles, there appeared to be two cones but there was only one.

“I didn’t realize how slow I was actually going,” she said. “It felt like I was going a lot faster.”

Hooks was one of more than 700 seniors who participated this week in the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office Project RIDE, an acronym for Realistic Impaired Driving Education.

The program aims to prevent impaired and distracted driving among youth by giving them an up-close view of the dangers it can bring to not only themselves but for others on the road.

Sheriff Calvin Woodard said the program, now in its second year, is usually held right before prom season starts.

“We want to make sure these kids come home safely,” Woodard said.

He said he hopes the program makes teens think twice before getting behind the wheel if they’re impaired. He also said there are also dangers in texting while driving. Deputies, along with state troopers and police, are working to prevent drunken driving, Woodard said.

“Instead of telling them about it, we are actually showing them hands-on,” he said. “It’s real.”

The sheriff’s office has spent this week conducting the program at Beddingfield, Fike and Hunt high schools. Students participated in realistic scenarios on road courses to simulate driving while impaired, driving under the influence of marijuana and distracted driving.

Fike senior Trey Joyner put on his goggles and tried to steer a small truck on a large course.

“It was challenging,” he said. “It was blurry.”

Joyner said he thought it was a good learning experience Thursday to know what not do.

“It’s not safe,” he said.

Woodard said the program also gives the sheriff’s office a chance to interact with community youth.

“It shows them the positive side of law enforcement,” he said.

In addition to the program, students were treated to grilled hot dogs, chips and drinks. Seniors also received informational packets and watched a brief yet graphic video where other young people shared real-life stories about what happened when they chose to get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol and drugs.