DUI simulator raises awareness

Tech. Sgt. Shameeka McKoy, 5th Medical Group mental health flight chief, tries the impaired driving simulator during a 5th MDG picnic, Aug. 16, 2013. The simulator is used to raise awareness about the risks of drunk driving and will be circulated to all the squadrons on base over the next month. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Apryl Hall)

Tech. Sgt. Shameeka McKoy, 5th Medical Group mental health flight chief, tries the impaired driving simulator during a 5th MDG picnic, Aug. 16, 2013. The simulator is used to raise awareness about the risks of drunk driving and will be circulated to all the squadrons on base over the next month. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Apryl Hall)

Col. William Tyra, 5th Medical Group commander, participates in an impaired driving simulation during a 5th MDG picnic, Aug. 16. The simulator will be distributed to all the squadrons on base throughout the next month to raise awareness about the risks of driving while impaired. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Apryl Hall)

Col. William Tyra, 5th Medical Group commander, participates in an impaired driving simulation during a 5th MDG picnic, Aug. 16. The simulator will be distributed to all the squadrons on base throughout the next month to raise awareness about the risks of driving while impaired. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Apryl Hall)

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- While exiting the main gate at Minot Air Force Base, the last thing Airmen see is a sign that telling the number of days since the last arrest of an Airman for driving under the influence of alcohol.

To raise awareness and potentially prevent future DUI incidences involving Minot AFB Airmen, an impaired driving simulator was brought here for the duration of a month to educate on the matter. The simulator uses virtual reality software in combination with a real vehicle to provide users with an authentic experience of impaired driving without any risks.

According to a North Dakota 2012 Epidemiological Profile report, the state has one of the highest alcohol use and binge drinking rates in the nation. Already this year, the state of North Dakota has had more than 500 drunk-driving incidences, said Staff Sgt. Jessica Wyrick, 5th Medical Operations Squadron non-commissioned officer in charge of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment. Residents of Minot AFB who fail to abide by the law contribute to those alarming statistics.

Because driving under the influence of alcohol has become such a state-wide problem, the North Dakota legislature implemented more severe punishments for drunk-driving. The new laws, made effective July 1, 2013, included higher fines, increased jail time and criminalizing the refusal to cooperate with law enforcement, said Sergeant Tom Iverson, North Dakota High Patrol safety and education officer.

Participants sat in the driver seat of the vehicle wearing headsets showing a virtual driving course through lenses. Drivers are expected to push the gas and brake pedals, and turn the steering wheel to make the appropriate movements. Certain directions are given throughout the course, which are heard through the headset. Individuals are expected to abide by normal traffic rules and follow set speed limits.

Participants first run through the course simulating no impairment. After the sober course is complete, the administrator will enter the age, body type and gender of the participant. Then, the impairment is assessed by entering a number of consumed drinks in a set number of hours to get the blood alcohol content of the participant.

By combining blurred vision, exaggerated movements and a slower reaction time, the course gives the participant the sensation of driving under the influence of alcohol. Upon completing the course, the system reports the number of traffic infractions that occurred during the simulation and gives the driver an overall score.

"It's important to let people know just how dangerous it is to be the one driving and what kind of impact it has," said Wyrick. "Even a little bit of alcohol has a big impact on your driving abilities."