Several orange cones set up to outline a driving course in the Kenai Central High School parking lot Wednesday took a beating in the name of education — they were clipped, knocked over and dragged for several feet trapped beneath a golf cart driven by students in the school’s health classes.
Each time a student hit a cone or made an especially erratic turn, a chorus of shouts and giggles rose from his or her classmates as they waited for their turn in the golf cart — lent to the drill by Kenai Fire Marshal Tommy Carver — with either vision-impairing goggles or their cell phones in hand.
The purpose of the drill was anything but comical, however. Kenai Police Officer Alex Prins guided students through the course to show them what it is like to drive impaired, either by alcohol or by the distraction of texting. The two acts don’t vary that much when it comes down to effecting a driver’s performance, Prins said.
“Essentially, impaired drivers and people who text and drive, their actual driving is not that different,” he said. “That’s the main goal that I want them to learn.”
The participating health class students were between 14 and 15 years old. Some had their driving permits already while others are still waiting to get behind the wheel. Prins said physically experiencing impaired driving in a golf cart gets through to the teens much better than traditional education techniques.
“You can tell them that in a classroom all day long, but when you bring them out here and let them see it … then they know,” he said. “This is a safe way for them to learn that.”
When their turn came, students could choose to either wear the vision-impairing goggles or traverse the course while trying to send a coherent text. Prins directed them to weave between several cones before making a few sharp turns between straightaway sections of the course.
Freshman Sarah Hollers, of Soldotna, and freshman Dominik Efta, of Kenai, both traversed the course with the thick goggles strapped to their heads.
“It was definitely interesting,” Hollers said. “I felt really disoriented … and I kind of felt bad for hitting the ‘kids,’ which were the cones.”
The drill lines up with the curriculum in the high school’s health classes as part of the alcohol unit, said Kenai Central High School teacher Chris Hanson.
Each teen is different, but in general their driving tends to be worse when they are texting and driving than when they don the vision-impairing goggles, Prins said. Both Hollers and Efta said it looked to them like the texting drivers were having an easier time Wednesday.
“The people who were texting, they could look up every now and then and they could see straight,” Hollers said.
If students take away the concept that texting and driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, the drills will have been a success, Prins said.
“We get REDDI complaints all the time and most of the time they’re not impaired drivers,” he said. “At least, that’s of the ones that I stop.”
Both Efta and Hollers agreed that they want to stay away from texting and alcohol in the future when it comes to driving, as the consequences would be much greater than a crushed traffic cone.
“It’s a completely different experience than just driving consciously,” Efta said.