Virginian-Pilot, The (Norfolk, VA)
June 7, 1998
Rebecca Dorschel’s eyes flew open and her body tensed as the car swung wide and slammed to a stop, dragging an orange cone along with it.
Rebecca, 15, was a backseat passenger in a car driven by her cousin, Joel Webb,. She had ridden with Joel before, but never on a ride like this one where everything felt out of control.
Rebecca and Joel were two of the hundreds of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy upper school students who experienced, firsthand but in total safety, a drive with a drunk driver.
The frightening but enlightening rides were in the Drunk Driving Simulator, a 1996 Dodge Neon that the Chrysler Corporation has modified with an on-board computer programmed to delay the car’s steering and braking response time, simulating the slowed abilities of a driver under the influence.
“It felt really weird when the brakes weren’t working at all and the steering locked up so I couldn’t control it,” Joel said.
“And he is normally a very good driver,” Rebecca added loyally.
The Simulator was developed in 1988 to allow sober drivers, and passengers, to experience the dangers of drinking and driving while on a controlled course with a trained instructor in the car. The instructor enters the driver’s weight and the number of hypothetical drinks needed to reach a blood alcohol level of approximately .13 to .15 and the computer takes over. A blood alcohol level of .08 is the legal limit in Virginia.
A separate kill brake allows the instructor to disengage the computer or shut down the engine when necessary.
Kerry Dunaway, Simulator instructor, said that his wisecracks and the upbeat music that filled the parking lot are all intended to make the experience a fun, but memorable one. The nervous laughter and joking around that he normally hears from the teens turns to serious thought after they have knocked down a few pop-up pedestrians along the course.
“I love this job because it gives you an opportunity to maybe make a change in someone’s life,” he said.
It took an entire year for NSA’s 75-member SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) club to bring the Simulator to the Academy, but their timing was good. Spring partying for proms and graduations makes the “don’t drink and drive” lessons most relevant.
“Overall I find that teenagers are receptive and responsible, more so than the adults,” Dunaway said.
Joel agreed, noting that most of the NSA students understand the importance of a designated driver.
Karen Konefal, a parent volunteer who helped register students to drive or ride in the Simulator, has a son and daughter in the school.
“You can talk to them until you are blue in the face but it is not like actually driving like you are out of control,” she said. “Hopefully this way they will remember to anticipate and not get caugt in the moment of a bad situation.”
Staff photos by MICHAEL KESTNER
Sarah Smith is all smiles at the wheel of the Drunk Driving
Simulator, but her back seat passenger looks a little apprehensive.
Yikes! A student driver nails a pylon on a tight turn while
operating the Drunk Driving Simulator.
Statistics drive home need to stay sober when driving
Mike Goodove, a Norfolk attorney whose brother was killed by a drunk driver in Charlottesville eight years ago, is also president of the South Side MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. MADD is a supporter of the Simulator program. Goodove quoted the following statistics for 1996, the most recent available:
In Virginia in 1996 there were 7206 drivers under 21 involved in crashes. Alcohol was a factor in 346 of those.
Of the 3427 drivers under 21 involved in crashes in which there were personal injuries, 183 were alcohol impaired.
Overall, 39.8 percent of all traffic fatalities in Virginia that year were alcohol related.
Copyright (c) 1998 The Virginian-Pilot
Record Number: 9806050302