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The dangers of impaired driving

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GOGGLES: Kaiden Huftel talks to his friend while wearing the drunk driving goggles as he awaits his turn on the course set up at the Learning Center.
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ZOOM: JacobEllet speeds through the course on his second time through at a higher rate of speed to see how the drunk goggles affect his ability to gage distances and navigate the course.

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

So far this month, 21 people have been booked in the Huntington County Jail for impaired driving offenses, according to Huntington County jail records.

Every day, 29 people in the U.S. die in motor vehicle accidents that involve an alcohol-impaired driver, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study from 2016. That means someone dies every 50 minutes.

In light of those statistics, former Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel, who teaches criminal justice at the Learning Center, let students get behind the wheel to feel the effects of impaired driving, using “drunk” goggles to simulate the experience, so that they could understand the seriousness of the issue.

“Some of the most horrific accidents I’ve dealt with, both in the city and county – alcohol’s involved usually,” Stoffel said. “It affects your ability to brake, reactionary time, your sense of left and right. It causes people to do wide turns, turn in front of people or hit them head on.”

Stoffel said there were only about two students who did a decent job navigating the course he set up in the parking lot, with most students hitting at least two cones. The ones who did make it through the course clean were either driving less than 5 mph or making wide turns, which was also part of the lesson.

“This will definitely remind me to keep an eye out for the swerving,” said Kalob Boxell, a junior at Huntington North High School who wants to become a county deputy after graduation.

Boxell only hit one cone, but he said if he was driving any faster, he would have hit many more cones.

“If we speed this up a bit, I guarantee everyone hits a cone, and that’s usually the problem you get when someone is buzzed and driving,” Stoffel said. “They go too fast, they outdrive their capabilities.”

Stoffel said doing hands-on lessons like this one will allow the students to truly understand how dangerous drinking and driving can be, since the students haven’t experienced double vision or other impairments.

As soon as Boxell put the glasses on, he noticed the difficulties of making proper choices while impaired.

“It was weird. You put them on and it shows you two cones – you’ve got a left cone and a right cone – even though there’s only one cone,” Boxell said. “I didn’t know which one to focus on, so I was like, ‘I’ll pick the left one’ – (which was the) wrong one. I should have picked the right one.”

Boxell said Stoffel’s ability to bring in experiences from his time as city police chief and sheriff make the class more impactful.

Stoffel said he knows traffic control is often looked down upon in the law enforcement community, since he spent time as a patrolman, but he said this exercise highlights how traffic patrol is an “intricate part of keeping everybody safe.”

“One time I was involved with a lady and she actually tested .34 (BAC),” Stoffel said. “She had hit four or five signs and actually came to rest on top of a stop sign. When I found her, she was sound asleep, so – I mean – it’s out there. This gives them a good idea that if you go into law enforcement, especially on the patrol side, this is definitely something you’ll be dealing with and it lets them know what to look out for.”