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Simulator Shows Effects of Drinking, Texting, Driving

Anne Arundel Community College on Wednesday offered students a lesson in driving while under the influence of alcohol and technology.

After ingesting eight beers in about two hours, I should not have been behind the wheel. But there I was, swerving across the road, grazing unsuspecting pedestrians and completely ignoring the speed limit. 

The ride ended when I crashed into the back of a Jeep Cherokee.

Thankfully, it was just a simulator. But it was enough to get a taste of the effects of driving under the influence.

Drive Square partnered with Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) on Thursday to show off the simulator, which also offered ways to see the impact of texting while driving.

Count AACC student Zanna Paquette among those who didn't have much success with the "drunk setting" of the simulator. 

"I didn't know where I was going at all," she said. "Even thought it's pretend, and just a simulator, I would not want that to be me. I drive my parents' car ... I don't want to do that to their car."

The Drive Square simulator is essentially a software program with a series of sensors that attach to a car's pedals, wheels and steering wheel. Drivers wear a special set of glasses with a virtual image of a roadway. The images in the glasses and responsiveness of the car change depending on how much alcohol the person is supposedly drinking. There's also a setting to demonstrate the effects of texting while driving. (A no-texting-while-driving law went into effect last year in Maryland.)

"It's purposely designed to be hard," said Monique Cobb, a simulation specialist with Drive Square. "There are distractions, stop lights and a lot of activity."

On the "drunk" setting, the image in the glasses shrinks to create a kind of tunnel vision. The steering wheel and accelerator also become less responsive. The texting setting features an array of distractions, including pedestrians and cars crossing the street unexpectedly. Cobb said the lesson behind the simulator is to not only teach the effects on drivers of drinking and texting, but to convey the importance of defensive driving. 

Drive Square demonstrates its simulator at schools and conferences across the country, and has also sold it to police departments, the military and other groups. Representatives from the company have made several appearances on The Doctors, and clips of the show are available online.

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