Simulator helps SEARK students learn about driving hazards


A Michigan-based company brought its message of the dangers of impaired driving from drinking alcohol as well as texting to the Southeast Arkansas College campus Monday through its Arrive Alive Tour.

Storn Olson, a driving awareness instructor with UNITE International, of Grand Rapids, Mich., was set up on the parking lot of the McGeorge Building with a black Chevrolet Sonic compact four-door passenger car that was outfitted with virtual reality hardware and software that turned the vehicle into a simulator.

“We disconnect the car’s battery and place the front wheels onto electronic sensor pads that communicate with a virtual reality wraparound headset that each participant wears,” Olson said. “They get to select either simulated drinking and driving or simulated distracted driving while texting.”

Olson said the driving under the influence simulation creates an environment where the driver has either a blood alcohol content of .081, which is just over the legal limit of .08, or a reading of .16 which is twice the legal limit.

“They get two times on the simulator with the first being a sober practice run and then we add virtual alcohol for the second run,” Olson said. “For those that do really well on the practice run we give them the higher blood alcohol level simulation.”

Olson said that emphasizes the severe penalties handed down for people under 21 who are pulled over with any amount of alcohol in their system.

“I try to start 0ut emphasizing the financial costs of being charged with a DUI,” Olson said. “It costs $1,000 just to get bonded out of the holding cell. Total expenses for a first DUI end up being around $12,000. I go at their pocketbook. I tell them that a DUI also shows up on a background check.”

Olson said he tells participants that the impairment suffered by a driver who is texting is every bit as bad as if not worse than drunk driving.

“When people are using their phone while driving they are looking at the screen and are emotionally engaged in the conversation and this takes a lot of the driver’s focus off of the road,” Olson said.

Olson said that around s60 people had participated in the simulation as of 1:45 Monday afternoon.

Sherri Roberts with SEARK helped to organize the event.

“We’re trying to build on our student activities,” Roberts said. “Students have said that they want this to happen.”

Roberts was glad that students had the opportunity to learn of the dangers associated with distracted and impaired driving.

“This helps students because nowadays the technology is out there to show them what happens,” Roberts said. “I was a substitute teacher for 20 years and there was a group of students who had a wreck in Rison. This was what first made me aware of the problems associated with distracted and impaired driving.”

Student reactions

“Of course it’s good to have this on campus,” Jasmine Wells, a student in the radiology program, said after completing the drunk driving simulation. “I know that you can’t drink and drive.”

Marlin Johnson, a recent SEARK graduate, said the experience gave him food for thought.

“It kind of scared me and made me think twice about drinking and makes me think about the other drivers on the road,” Johnson said.

Joshua Rounds, a student in the nursing program, said the experience gave him a new perspective on texting and driving.

“It was realistic and teaches you that you shouldn’t drive and text,” Rounds said. “It’s something that I’ve done before and it’s just not worth it.”

Kalisha McLemore, a student in the surgical tech program, said that the drunk driving simulator was a good experience.

Leannah Sneed, a student in the early childhood development program, was particularly appreciative of the event.

“It was cool to have this here,” Sneed said. “Don’t text and drive because it is dangerous and anything can happen. I lost a friend to someone who was speeding.”

Jarneshia Gaines, a radiology student, appreciated the opportunity to try out the simulator.

“I think this is a good idea,” Gaines said. “I have a brother who texts a lot who could really use this.”

Jessica Moore, a student in the nursing program, said that the texting simulation was an educational experience for her.

“It was harder than I thought,” Moore said. “It taught me that it’s important to watch where you’re going.”