Sep 23, 2014 - BE SAFE AND SOBER

Const. John McLeod (left) of Halifax Regional Police leads volunteer Marybeth Garson through a typical sobriety test while wearing Ford’s new Drunk Driving Suit. Garson’s cognitive faculties were completely intact, but the suit mimicked the physical effects of intoxication quite realistically

It’s pretty safe to assume that most of us, at one point or another, have felt less drunk than we actually were after a few drinks. While most of us are still smart enough not to get behind the wheel in those situations, a lot of people in the province risk it anyway.

“It kills me, in this city, when you look at the transit system and the people we have, that this happens,” says Const. John McLeod, an Impaired Drivers Countermeasures officer with the Halifax Regional Police. “The leading cause of death in Canada, criminally, is impaired driving. Not homicide, not even close.”

According to McLeod, 35 to 45 impaired driving arrests are made every month in HRM. Unfortunately, the number that they catch doesn’t compare to the number that get away by going unreported.

“Quite frankly, those numbers are really low,” says McLeod, who estimates that one in four motorists on the road after midnight are impaired. “One of the reasons that they’re low is there are only so many police officers to find those folks.”

Thankfully, with awareness campaigns like MADD’s Campaign 911, and the abundance of folks on the road who carry cellphones, Halifax Regional Police catch almost all offenders that have been reported by concerned citizens.

But in order to really combat the issue, according to McLeod, you have to attack it from the other side too — educating people on the dangers of impaired driving before they ever get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated.

“That’s always that two-fold perspective that you want,” says McLeod. “You want to be able to educate people, and let them know, if you can stop it before it happens, it’s great.”

Recently, McLeod lent his expertise to the folks of Ford Canada, who wanted his help in demonstrating their newest driver safety education tool in Halifax.

“Ford’s message has always been a strong one for safety, since it’s inception. Over the past decade, Ford has been very involved in schools and communities with their Drive Safe for Life program,” says Bob Powers, a salesperson and spokesperson for Steele Ford Lincoln. “This is part of their Driving Skills program for youth - the Ford Drunk Driving Suit.”

Developed in Germany, the suit is comprised of a weighted ankle brace for the dominant foot, two weights for the wrist, restrictive bands worn around the knees and elbows, a neck brace, sound-deadening headphones, and honest-to-goodness beer goggles that blur sight and restrict peripheral vision. All these restrictions combined replicate the lack of balance, mobility, and coordination that comes with being under the influence of alcohol.

In a demonstration held at the Halifax Forum, McLeod led a volunteer wearing the suit through a typical roadside sobriety test. With her cognitive faculties unaffected by the suit, the volunteer could appreciate exactly how impaired she was when you’re actually intoxicated.

“When you’re drunk, you think, ‘oh, I’m not really drunk.’ But when you’re sober, and you’re simulating a drunk person, you kind of realize, my reflexes would have been really slow,” says Marybeth Garson, who described the sensation of wearing the suit as heavy, disorienting, and debilitating. “It’s kind of a sobering effect.”

McLeod says that tools like the Drunk Driving Suit are important ways to make people understand how bad driving impaired is, beyond just a theoretical understanding.

“Any kind of demonstration tool that you can do to take it out of the abstract [is great]. It’s hard for a lot of people to tell them and say, ‘you’ve just got to take my word for it,’” says McLeod. “When you can physically feel what it’s like, it gives you a much greater understanding of what it is we’re trying to explain to you.”

“In this day and age, it seems like everything’s on the Internet,” says Powers, who spotted Garson during her simulated sobriety test. “Well, driving experience, and driving experience while impaired, is not.”

Powers would like to see the Drunk Driving Suit incorporated into more educational programs throughout the city, especially for youth drivers. With statistics like 104 drunk driving arrests in HRM in August — double that of the arrests made just the month prior in July — there’s no better time than now to start educating a new generation.

“I’d like to see things like this as courses in schools,” says Powers. “It’s a lesson that’s going to stay with you for the rest of your life.”

“If you can reach the youth, and you can get the kids to understand, they’re much more willing to learn new things, and to hear that stuff,” says McLeod. “When you can reach that age group, you’re reaching future generations.”

While it is by no means an impossibility that the suit could return to Halifax, or be implemented in programs through the region, there are currently no concrete plans to do so. But there are many great drinking and driving awareness programs available, according to McLeod, and one needs only get in touch with Halifax Regional Police to get the ball rolling.

“There are lots of programs out there. The police ourselves, we have a community relations officer to go in and speak to the kids, [and] MADD Canada has their education programs that they send around,” says McLeod. “It’s not a complicated message — If you drink, don’t drive.”

Source: The Chronicle Herald Halifax



Last updated on: 2014-10-02 | Link to this post