What do root beer floats, a bouncy castle, Walmart, and oil have to do with SIDNE® (Simulated Impaired Driving Experience)? All five were part of an event in North Dakota meant to educate people about impaired driving.
For the past decade, North Dakota communities have faced a set of challenges that have created hazards for everyone there. In the Dickinson area, the challenges started with oil and pipeline projects.
“Our community is growing by leaps and bounds due to the oil activity in our area,” Becky Byzewski, director of the SW Coalition of Safe Communities (SWCSC), explains. This big influx of residents has created one initial problem. “Our roads cannot keep up with the traffic, which has increased dramatically.”
These new residents have plenty of ready cash, since the pipeline jobs pay well. Many 18-year-olds have chosen not to go to college after high school, but to work on the pipeline instead. These young workers spend their money on new recreational vehicles such as 4x4’s, four-wheelers, motorcycles, and snowmobiles.
“They work long hours for many days in a row,” Byzewski says, “and when they get off, they party.”
In addition to overcrowded roads and hearty-partying youth, the area faces a problematic attitude in the general community. “The acceptance of (underage drinking) by the community and parents,” says Byzewski, “…provides underage youth a safe haven for committing violations without fear of getting caught—or concern for consequences.”
Byzewski says that a recent community survey showed that area laws meant to punish alcohol-related crimes are too lenient to ensure offenders don’t repeat their offenses. Tether this to lack of funding and staff among law enforcement and you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to road safety.
But when Byzewski saw Fatal Vision® goggles and SIDNE® in use at a Lifesavers Conference, she knew these tools could help her impaired driving prevention program. “We felt this would be a great learning opportunity for both youth and adults to try. It was interactive, fun, and educational, all at the same time.”
She approached Walmart for help in making the purchase. Walmart agreed to fund the project and asked SWCSC to host an event in the Walmart parking lot. Walmart provided staff to work the event, attracting attendees with root beer floats, a jumping castle, and a large double slide. Volunteers manned the blow-up equipment, and folks from local businesses like State Farm barbecued hot dogs, brats, and served soda and chips. The fun attracted a crowd for the main event: SIDNE®, Distract-a-Match®, Fatal Reflections®, and other hands-on convincers. Youth volunteers distributed information and incentive items to young drivers.
At a similar event in Bismark, one father was reduced to tears. “He said it really hit him hard, because no one wants to see their child die before they do,” Byzewski remembers. But in reality, it happens all the time.”
Her hopes are high for the reaching and positively influencing a lot of people with SIDNE®, the Fatal Vision® goggles, and other impaired driving prevention and education tools. “We hope to target 15 year-olds through 100 year-olds through schools and community events—and through businesses, particularly the oil industry,” Byzewski says. “I feel the Fatal Vision® products provide a realistic learning experience for many people. They certainly grab people’s attention at our booths and in our presentations. We like the products because they are hands-on experience for an audience.
“There is more than one thing to learn with this piece of equipment.”