Gridlock Guy: Trying on beer goggles for tailgating season

There has been so much messaging against drunk driving for so long that facts can become platitudes. The stark reality that drinking really can impair drivers enough to cause crashes, injuries, and deaths is talked about so often that it seems like an ethos really meant “those bad people.” But drunk driving is a bug that can bite anyone who thinks they’re fine and that their ride is just a short distance. Ford Motor Company and the Georgia Tech Police Department are trying to make the effects of impairment tangible.

» RELATED: Study compares driving drowsy risk to driving drunk

Ford and Tech brought a “drunk driving suit” to WSB’s studios last week to give us a demo of what they are showing to high school and college students around the country. They highlight several times per year, including football and prom seasons, as times to target students with their anti-drunk driving message.

"We really want to educate them on what it feels like to be impaired and under the influence of alcohol,"Ford representative Judith Fouts told WSB and the AJC. But they, of course, aren't actually getting students drunk to do that. "They are literal beer goggles - without the beer."

The goggles on the suit are the most altering accessory. They are almost like extreme 3D glasses, refracting the images and putting them askew to the eyes from where they actually are. The goggles create ghost images and tunnel vision, each of which mimic drunkenness symptoms. The distorted vision is also disorienting and even nauseating. My 95.5 WSB news colleague Michelle Wright wore the suit after me and said a couple of hours later that she still felt a bit sick to her stomach.

The drunk driving suit also consists of various bandages for elbows, knees, and the neck to restrict movements. The suit has both a wrist and an ankle weight to affect balance and make lifting those appendages harder. And earmuffs also dampen hearing, another sense necessary for driving.

Ford had the drunk driving suit made in Germany in 2003, Fouts said. And now a number of them travel all over the United States. Officials from the Ford Driving Skills For Life program reach out to different campuses to schedule the demonstrations. They had a display at Tech's Campus Safety Day last Thursday.

Wright and I got to drive a 2019 Ford Raptor slowly around the parking lot. The most challenging part for me was simply trying to lift my weighted arm and ankle into the tall truck. Wright’s biggest challenge was parking. Her goggles led her to believe she was completely in a spot, but she actually pulled the truck up way short.

Then Georgia Tech PD "pulled us over" and Officer Loren Crabtree proctored a field sobriety test for each of us. That was far more challenging than driving, as neither of us could walk in lines, balance well, or throw footballs or tennis balls straight. I painstakingly tried to walk on the line, but the weights made moving hard and the goggles offset the line to my sight. And the weights made balancing incredibly hard. These normally are fairly easy to do.

» RELATED: Senate vote sends Georgia DUI breathalyzer bill to governor

"When someone is sober, it's easy to walk nine heel-to-toe steps in a line or balance on one foot," Officer Crabtree said. "They can't follow instructions, they can't keep balance, they can't walk in a line." An intoxicated driver that falls well short on these field sobriety tests creates very tangible evidence for officers, juries, and judges to decide on their case.

So driving drunk is off-limits, but also drunk bicycling, e-scootering, and even walking should be, Crabtree said. "If you're intoxicated and walking on the sidewalk, that normally is very easy when you're sober. But when you're drunk, you can easily trip or fall and maybe even trip into a roadway. And when you have vehicle traffic, you can get hurt or [cause] car accidents."

Crabtree said that taking ride sharing services or even calling the police themselves (when they aren’t too busy) are great options for Tech students trying to get around while drunk. Tech also offers the Tech Trolley and Stingerette to get multiple students around when they cannot safely under their own power.

Students should also consider having a designated driver in their party. Team Georgia is a safe and sober travel advocacy organization for which I serve on the board. We have booths set up at GSU Stadium and KSU's Fifth Third Bank Stadium specifically to encourage sober driving on football game days. Passersby can sign the pledge not to drink and drive. If they do this at the Infinite Energy Center in Gwinnett for any event there, they get a voucher for a free soft drink.

With modern conveniences like ride sharing available, there is even less of an excuse to drive impaired. The drunk-driving suit may drive an exaggerated point, but it’s one that needs to stick: We need all of our senses at high capacity to operate fast, ton-plus vehicles. This means we need to keep the cans — and the phones — far away from the steering wheel.

» RELATED: July is the worst month for deadly drunk driving accidents

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin' Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.