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Goggles let Jefferson students see effects of drunk driving
Jefferson High School sophomore Hannah Cox, 15, stumbles as she gets into a golf cart on Wednesday as Jefferson Police Chief Joe Wirthman watches. The Jefferson Police Department allowed driver’s education students to put on goggles that simulated being drunk and drive through a course in a closed parking lot. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

JEFFERSON — Even though he was under the influence, Avery Wood gladly got behind the wheel of a vehicle with Jefferson Police Chief Joe Wirthman as his passenger.

No, the Jefferson High School student wasn’t trying to get arrested. Rather, he was taking part in a special hands-on demonstration with the other members of his driver’s education class.

The Jefferson Police Department recently conducted a drunk-driving simulation course for JHS students. The students had to put on a pair of "fatal vision" goggles that simulated various stages of intoxication — from blood alcohol content levels of .07 up to .20 — and drive a golf cart through an obstacle course.

"It was pretty difficult, but I figured it would be," said Avery, a JHS sophomore. "I can see how someone could get injured easily if they were driving a real car."

This is the first year the police department has been able to set up an exercise that allows the students too see first-hand what the dangers are of driving under the influence.

"Corey Smith donated a portion of the proceeds from his concert in Jefferson to the police department and we used some of the money to buy the golf cart. And we used drug seizure money to purchase the goggles, so it didn’t cost the city or taxpayers a single penny," said Wirthman. "We set the golf cart so that it wouldn’t go faster than 8 miles per hour — we didn’t want it to go to fast and the kids get hurt — but we did want them to see how difficult it is to drive impaired, even at that slow speed."

The goal of the driver education course is to help the students become safer drivers.

"They all have their driving permits; that is a requirement to getting into the class. We spend time in the classroom, but they also spend 30 minutes each week behind the wheel," said Mike Paul, class instructor. "We can’t give them a drink and take them out on the road, so this is the next best thing. Hopefully, they saw how difficult it is to drive impaired and won’t choose to engage in that type of behavior in the future."

For Niesha Butler, who is a few weeks away from retiring her permit and obtaining her actual driver’s license, the experience was an eye-opener.

"I was surprised that I hit the cones," said Niesha, who is an 11th-grade student. "Everything was really blurry, and the stop sign was farther than it looked."

Sophomore Hannah Cox was also surprised by the driving exercise.

"I thought it would be a lot easier than it was," said Hannah, who stumbled to the golf cart after putting on the goggles.

"It was definitely interesting — especially backing up."