I’ve never driven drunk before, but now I have a good idea of what it’s like. And it’s not fun.
As part of its traveling Driving Skills for Life program, which teaches teens some of the potential dangers of driving, Ford has developed a so-called “drunk suit” that simulates the effects of intoxication from head to toe.
The simple-looking contraption is comprised of unbalanced ankle and wrist weights, braces that restrict the movement of your joints and a pair of Fatal Vision brand “beer goggles” that dazzle and blur your eyesight in a way that mimics the effects of alcohol and drugs. Capping it off is a pair of headphones that impair your hearing and put you further into a sensory bubble.
Although you’re fully aware of the challenge you face, the suit makes it nearly impossible to walk a straight line and impairs even the simplest motor skills. Playing a beanbag toss game from only about 15 feet away, I was consistently a couple of yards wide of the target, hitting the same spot over and over despite making adjustments to my technique.
It’s a real out-of-body experience; it even makes it hard to think straight and speak properly, and it didn’t take long before I started feeling sick to my stomach. It’s hard to imagine any kid wanting to have a drink after going through this, let alone getting behind the wheel in such a condition.
Due to safety (more likely legal) concerns, Ford doesn’t let participants drive with the full suit on, only the goggles. But it’s enough.
The pair I wore simulated a .17 blood alcohol level, just over twice the maximum legal limit in the United States. The prismatic view they create is so disorienting, that even though I took a practice run without them through a skills course Ford set up in a parking lot, I still managed to run a stop sign and hit a couple of cones. And I was driving so slowly the whole time, I surely would have caught the attention of any police officer who saw me pass by. If my eyes weren’t opened to the perils of DUI before, they definitely are now.
Along with the drunk suit, participants in the program run the same course while texting, often with the expected results, and get some time in a Mustang that’s been modified to recreate an emergency skid at low speeds. A few of the former students that Ford had on hand at the press event I attended recounted stories about how the skills they picked up helped them avoid accidents later.
But the lesson the instructors drive home the hardest is that the best way to reduce the risks you take is to make the right decisions before you get in the car, and to know when to say no … to the keys.