‘SIDNE’ shows dangers of driving while impaired or distracted

Peggy Revell

Fort High students were zooming around the gymnasium crashing into pylons and cut-outs of pedestrians last Wednesday as they got a taste of the new “Simulated Impaired DriviNg Experience”­­­ to teach them the consequences of impaired and distracted driving.
Better known as “SIDNE,” the vehicle is the newest purchase by the local Substance Abuse Prevention Team to be used as a teaching tool across the district.
“When you’re dealing with young people, with choices, you have to get their attention,” stressed SAPT co-ordinator Hugh Dennis, referring to the purchase of the battery-powered vehicle.
“Furthermore, it’s fun.”
“And technology, for young people that’s the hook. It’s a pretty cool piece of equipment,” echoed SAPT vice-chair Aimee Beazley.
Built in Wisconsin, the vehicle is now one of only three in Canada. It was brought to the area thanks to the research and work of John Beaton with the local Preventing Alcohol Related Trauma in Youth program (P.A.R.T.Y.)
The $25,000 used to purchase the vehicle came from a $99,846.31 provincial grant for the SAPT.
Drivers first take a spin around a set-up course in “normal mode” with no distractions built in, explained Beaton.
“Once they go round it the first time, they go around it again and the transmitter person can put it in ‘distract mode’­—so everything they do has a second-and-a-half delay,” he continued.
“So you’re always going to hit cones or [knock] people down.”
After the person is done their “drive” around the course, the instructor talks to them about what they did wrong and how they could have changed their behaviour.
The demonstration of “SIDNE” at Fort High was held in conjunction with the Ontario-wide Drug Awareness Week as the SAPT, along with the Drug Awareness Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program, P.A.R.T.Y., and other community programs were set up at the atrium.
“The reception by the students, and that’s where our target group is, is just fabulous. They are major engaged,” Dennis enthused about the number of students who came over to talk, look at the displays, grab some free treats, and participate in the activities that had been set up.
Sitting on the sidelines and watching SIDNE take a zoom around the course, Grade 11 student Anjelica French worried that fellow students might see SIDNE become more of a game that doesn’t really mean anything.
But she hoped it ultimately will show the possible consequences of impaired and distracted driving.
Texting and drinking while driving are a problem amongst youth, she noted.
“It’s gotten bigger, the problem,” she warned. “There’s more and more accidents of kids getting scraped off highways because of drunk driving and texting than there is of any other leading cause of it.
“So I figure if all the schools could have something like this, but actually have consequences to it, then maybe it will minimize what happens.”
Beaton said they’re hoping to take SIDNE on the road around the district, on a cost recovery basis. Those interested in booking it can contact partyprogramfortfrances@hotmail.com
While the display at Forth High was set up in the large gym, SIDNE is best used in even bigger spaces such as parking lots, noted Dennis, although the weather in this area makes that harder.
SIDNE actually is just one of the various new teaching aids that now will be available in the district.
One game, “Match and Distract,” is a test of sorts on multi-tasking, with the participant trying to place the correct shapes on a board while counting down from 100 backwards at the same time in 30 seconds.
A second time around, the participant wears headphones which “echo” every few seconds when the instructor presses the button.
“So the point is so many things can distract you,” said Beaton. “It’s not just watching the road, turn the radio, talking to a person.”
Another tool is the “intoxiclock” which helps to measure and show a person how the number of drinks will affect their system and blood alcohol level, and the amount of time it actually takes to get alcohol out of one’s system.
Or “Walk the Line” requires a person to walk toe-to-toe along a line that beeps when they step off.
Another tool they now have are “Fatal Vision Goggles,” meant to show students how drinking and drugs impair vision and how this affects their actions—such as when walking the line.
As part of the provincial funding, SAPT will be looking to updating its displays, teaching aids, and presentation aids, said Dennis, pointing to items like the display on what certain drugs actually look like, which youth are drawn to, or projects like the mock crash video filmed two falls ago or the photovoice one.
“Those are the sort of presentations that kids are very, very interested in and respond to,” Dennis noted.
“That’s what we’re aiming for.”
To get their message out about substance abuse, the SAPT also has driven down the presentations and discussions to the Grade 6 and 7 levels this year, Dennis added.
“Those students are majorly interested and they’re in tune with what’s going on,” he said. “So the idea that it’s Grade 9 and up that are aware of drug use and all that­, [it’s not].
“It’s way down, Grades 5 and 6. You wouldn’t believe it.”

Drug Awareness Week was a busy one for the SAPT team. They were in Atikokan on the Sunday for the community pancake breakfast, at North Star school there on Monday, followed by Big Grassy School on Tuesday, Fort High and Rainy River First Nation on Wednesday, and at Atikokan High School on Thursday.