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South Hagerstown students have opportunity to "drive drunk"

October 14, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

HAGERSTOWN -- Mark Sokol bent over to grab the keys off the pavement and missed them completely.

After his second attempt was successful, Sokol, 15, stumbled into the driver's seat of the John Deere Gator utility vehicle and hit the gas.

Sokol was one of about 20 high school students who donned "fatal vision goggles" Monday as part of an alcohol-education program at South Hagerstown High School.

He drove through the course without hitting cones, but said afterward that the experience was humbling.

"Definitely, it's disorienting," Sokol said. "You feel really, really wack."

Sophomores at South High got a chance Monday to drive, take field sobriety tests and perform basic tasks like jumping rope and playing basketball while wearing the goggles, which simulate alcohol-impaired vision.

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Health teacher Amy Schmuck brought the program, called Gator-Aid, to the school this year after using it as a teacher in Frederick County, Md.

She said it is much more useful than teaching the dangers of drunk driving to kids in the classroom.

"It's hands-on. Hands-on things are more influential to the kids because they actually see the firsthand experience rather than just sit and listen," Schmuck said.

Hagerstown Police Officer C.J. Mikash, who participated in the class, agreed.

"We can sit and preach until we're blue in the face, but until someone actually goes out and does it, they won't know the real lessons," Mikash said.

Several students were unable to keep the Gator vehicle on the driving course.

Others stumbled as they tried to walk a straight line or play basketball while wearing the goggles.

Eileen Teunis, 15, said the goggles made the sobriety tests very difficult.

"It was weird. Your vision was, like, all off. There were, like, four of everybody," Teunis said.

Teunis, who recently got her driver's permit, said the experience was effective.

"I never really would have thought that it would be that bad," Teunis said.

Washington County Public Schools Supervisor of Arts, Health & Physical Education/Athletics Edward Masood said county health education teachers will talk about whether to expand the program to other schools in the fall.

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