Driver-education students here soon will experience firsthand what driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is like thanks to an innovative program, nicknamed wobble goggles.
The goggles are part of the Fatal Vision Simulator Program recently presented to the Barker Police Department by the Lighthouse Optimist Club of Barker to help start a drug and alcohol prevention awareness program in the community.
In January, Barker Police Officer Don Martineck, who became aware of the Fatal Vision Program through a law enforcement periodical, urged the village board to allow him to approach various community organizations for funding for the project.
"I'd seen it several times in publications that had come out and it caught my eye. I thought it was something that could benefit the area," said Martineck. "I wanted to get something that would be more connected to our community. It's something I feel there's a vast need for."
His quest for funding ended when he approached the Optimist Club.
According to Martineck, "The Optimists jumped on it initially, and they pretty much funded the start of the program."
Not surprising, according to Julie Obermiller, Lighthouse Optimist Club member and Lighthouse Youth Optimist Club adviser.
"The focus of Optimist Clubs is friends of youth. They do a lot of youth programs," she said. "This particular program was not inexpensive. The start-up kit for two pairs of goggles and training materials is $850," according to Miss Obermiller.
"The goal was, when Don came to our meeting and presented it, to go to several organizations in the community and to maybe have everybody pool a little bit of money. But, he came to us first. We ordered them, wrote a check and sent out the order that night."
So what did that check buy? Two pairs of Star Wars-style virtual-reality helmets? No, the goggles are "deceptively simple," said Miss Obermiller.
"When you get them, they're like those plastic welding goggles. When you hold them up to your face, it's a series of prisms. The prisms distort everything," she added, "You think you're walking in a straight line but the fact is you aren't even standing up straight. It impairs your ability by simulating intoxication without having to use alcohol." She added: "It isn't a carnival, kind of pass them around thing. It comes with very serious training videos and materials."
Martineck, who has tried the goggles on, said, "It distorts your vision and makes it a lot more difficult to perform even the simplest of tasks, I was very much impressed." Tasks such as picking up a coin or threading a needle are easy without the goggles but nearly impossible
while wearing them.
Martineck plans to use the goggles and training materials with all age levels, from elementary school students to senior citizens.
His first target is the driver-education program in the Barker school district. Students will experience two degrees of impairment when they put on the goggles.
"The one thing that I wanted to do. . . was to purchase two different degrees of goggles. There's one that shows them how it would be to be impaired, roughly .08 to .12, and the stronger pair shows them intoxication, which would take them to .12 to above .20," said Martineck.
"You're going to get a lot of kids that have been a little tipsy with a beer or two but they haven't been that far (intoxication). This is really going to show them how excess alcohol can affect you."
The driver-education students will walk a marked line that comes with the goggles and simulates a field sobriety test.
"I'm hoping to actually utilize a driver-ed car and set up a small course they could drive while wearing the goggles," he said. Since the driver-ed cars have duel controls, it would be a controlled situation.
"I'm hoping we'll be able to do this," he said. "It's funny to sit in a classroom and wear them (the goggles) and try to walk a line or watch someone wobbling all over the place. But put kids in an actual situation in a moving motor vehicle and give them a simple task to perform such as figure-8 eights through some orange cones and then attempt to do it again simulating different degrees of intoxication, will leave a very lasting impression."
Barker is among a small group of communities in this area which have the wobble goggles.
Both Miss Obermiller and Martineck think this is a positive addition to the Barker community.
"Even for adults, the program is going to be phenomenal," Miss Obermiller said. "This is just the most exciting program."
Martineck is willing to share the program after he has explored all possibilities within his community.
"There are programs available through the county and through the state police but I thought we should get something started we could use specifically in our neighborhood rather than calling on outside people. When we've exhausted all the groups in the area, which could take a considerable amount of time, we'd be open to going out to other areas but I'm more concerned about our immediate Barker community," he said.