- The Washington Times - Monday, November 8, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A few Montgomery County high school students yesterday had a lesson on drinking and driving — only without the hangover or the risks.

Police set up an obstacle course on the football field at Wootton High School in Rockville. A couple of students then drove the course in a cart while wearing special goggles that simulate the vision and balance distortion of someone who is legally drunk.

“I thought I was driving really well, but I got off the course and couldn’t get back on,” said senior Jilian Firestone, who hit more than half a dozen cones as she tried to maneuver the John Deere Gator vehicle at about 5 mph.

“I could never tell how close I was to hitting anything,” said junior Matt Mooney. “Regardless of whether it was realistic, there’s no way I would want to try that with a real car and real people.”

Matt knocked over three cones during the short drive, and said he couldn’t live with himself if he had killed three persons for one night of drinking.

“This is what we see all the time,” said alcohol-enforcement officer Bill Morrison. “People don’t realize how much they have had to drink.”

A police spokeswoman said seeing really is believing for the other students watching the demonstration.

Officer Gary Lewis handed out a chart showing stopping distances at different speeds. He said skid marks at accident scenes often show that drivers often cannot even start braking until after an accident.

Officer Lewis emphasized that speed and youth don’t mix any better than alcohol and driving.

Police officials said they created the pilot teaching program in response to the high number of traffic deaths among Montgomery County high school students this year.

Five teenagers were killed and four others were injured in three traffic accidents the last weekend of September.

Since January, 10 persons in the county have died in eight collisions involving drivers under the age of 21. There were 467 accidents on county roads between January and September involving drivers under age 21 and speeding, police spokeswoman Lucille Baur said.

“We haven’t even made it through the holidays… or the prom season, which is worse,” police Capt. Thomas Didone said. “Enough is enough.”

Police plan to visit 10th-grade health classes at Wootton and Damascus high schools this month, and hope to expand the “Gator aid” program.

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