Friday, October 22, 2004

Teens learn as 'drunk' stumbles

By Travis Gettys
Enquirer contributor

Brett Stith, 16, of Union, attempts to walk a straight line while wearing "fatal vision" goggles that simulate drunkenness.
WALTON - Although the legal drinking age is 21, some teenagers are heavy consumers of alcoholic beverages, a Boone County sheriff's deputy told a group of 50 teens Thursday.

And when a teenager who has been drinking gets behind the wheel, the results can be fatal, said Jan Wuchner, a school resource deputy at Walton-Verona High School.

"We don't want you to mix alcohol with driving," Wuchner told the students, who have turned 16 since July and are now eligible for a learner's driving permit. "We want you to stay safe."

The number of traffic fatalities for drivers ages 15-20 years old has declined over the last two years, but the number is still higher than it was in 1993, according to a study released last week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

About 25 percent of fatal crashes involving young people in 2003 were alcohol-related, down from 33 percent a decade earlier.

To demonstrate the effect alcohol can have on drivers, Wuchner placed a pair of "fatal vision" goggles on Brett Stith, 16, of Union, and placed him in the driver's seat of a car - or, rather, a wooden chair in the library.

Wuchner walked Stith through each step of a traffic stop while he wore the goggles, which distort and blur vision, and asked him to perform part of a field sobriety test.

Other students giggled as Stith staggered for a couple of steps. Wuchner asked Stith to start over each time he lost his balance.

Stith even took a Breathalyzer test, but unknown to the students, his breath was spiked with mouthwash. Stith's classmates gasped as the meter climbed past .02, the legal limit for anyone under 21 years old driving a car.

"A DUI is not a very good experience," Wuchner said, placing handcuffs on Stith's wrists and listing the fines, attorney fees and car-insurance hikes that come with a DUI.

Stith said wearing the goggles, which mimic the effect alcohol has on an intoxicated person's vision, made performing simple tasks difficult and served as a memorable lesson.

"When you look down, you can't even see - it's all wacky," Stith said, "and handcuffs do not feel good."

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