Mahaska County is filled with high school students—there are three high schools inside it and another on its border that draws students from it. The county has seen several multiple-fatality crashes recently that were related to texting and driving.
“Of course we’re concerned about drinking and driving,” DeKock says. “But we’re seeing distracted driving at a higher rate even among adults.”
He first encountered Fatal Vision® goggles during a training event in Illinois and they immediately caught his attention. “They show the effects of alcohol and how it really does impair your ability,” he says.
Because he works with so many high school students, he secured five or six sets, mostly for his work with them but also for his work with parents and in the community at large. The national program he uses with students, Staying Alive, easily accommodates the Fatal Vision® goggles.
The Fatal Vision® portion of the program starts out by having one male student and one female student “walk the line” without wearing the goggles. They then must walk the line again, this time with the goggles on, just as they would if a law enforcement officer stopped them for impaired driving.
Despite the confidence they usually feel before they walk the line this second time, DeKock says, “They have difficulty even finding the line.”
After some of the students walk the line with the goggles on, the teacher then walks the line with and without the goggles, too. Why? It’s part of DeKock’s best practice routine to show that no matter who is behind the wheel—male or female, student or adult—alcohol does impair ability.
“It doesn’t matter,” DeKock tells them. “Alcohol affects your driving.”
He notes that students find it easy to laugh when they’re using the goggles. Another one of DeKock’s best practices counteracts the silliness that can occur: He drives home the seriousness of being under the influence when driving. An extension of that best practice is that he never loans the Fatal Vision® goggles out to a group unless it is serious about educating its constituency about driving under the influence.
Another of DeKock’s best practices is to explain the Fatal Vision® goggles thoroughly so that students and adults alike realize that they come under the influence of alcohol over time, not in a split second.
“Adults sometimes claim they’ve never been ‘that drunk’ before,” DeKock says. “But they probably have been (but didn’t realize it) because it was so gradual. Judgment’s impaired because of alcohol—that’s why they don’t realize that they’re impaired.”
DeKock works with a peer-to-peer lab class as part of the program. Seniors mentor and lead discussions on impaired driving with freshmen students after one to two weeks of training with DeKock. The lab takes place in a classroom setting over a number of class periods. Each class contains about twenty freshmen because, as best practice has proven, fewer students equals less distraction.
The goal of the peer-to-peer lab highlights another of his best practices: “Our goal is to keep them from becoming a statistic.” He makes sure that the seniors drive that point home to the younger students, and that the younger students take that point away with them.
He does this by showing the senior mentors how to help the incoming students to be proactive, to have a plan before they get into a dicey situation. They show their mentees a video, lead discussions on ways to avoid becoming a drunk driver, avoid riding with a drunk driver, and avoid letting friends drive drunk. The students brainstorm options for getting out of various situations safely—calling a taxi, calling a sibling or parents or someone else they can trust.
By making the new students’ best practice to plan ahead, DeKock and the senior mentors drive home the main emphasis of the program: “We want you back tomorrow.” To underscore this, each student is given a Staying Alive card to write down their options and telephone numbers of individuals who will provide them a safe ride home if needed.
“We ask them to keep the card in their wallet or purse so it’s there when it’s needed,” DeKock says. “We use the goggles to show them what effects alcohol really has. It really sticks with them. And they can see this while they’re sober.”
While the Staying Alive program is a national one, DeKock has tweaked it over the years, using his best practice guidelines. One of the biggest tweaks was adding Fatal Vision® goggles.
“It’s a grabber at the end of the program,” DeKock explains. “It’s a good way to wrap it up. The goggles really complement the program a lot.”
The best practice of all.
Officer Don DeKock’s Best Practices
- Have participants first “walk the line” without wearing the Fatal Vision® goggles and then walk the line again, this time with the goggles on, just as they would if a law enforcement officer stopped them for impaired driving.
- Drive home the seriousness of being under the influence to counteract the occasional silliness or laughter by students when using the goggles.
- Never loan the Fatal Vision® goggles out to a group unless it is serious about educating its constituency about driving under the influence.
- Explain the Fatal Vision® goggles thoroughly so that students and adults alike realize that they come under the influence of alcohol over time, not in a split second. This helps address claims by adults that they’ve never been “that drunk” before.
- Keep class sizes to about 20 participants, as less students equals less distraction.
- Use a peer to peer delivery with seniors delivering the program to freshmen.Seniors can interact with mentees and promote discussions on ways to avoid becoming a drunk driver, avoid riding with a drunk driver, and avoid letting friends drive drunk. Students also work together to come up with options forgetting out of various situations safely – calling a taxi, calling a sibling or parents or someone else they trust.
- Use the Fatal Vision® goggles at the end of the program as it’s a great way to wrap up the lesson.