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When Mekhi Gregg got behind the wheel, he thought it was going to be easy. But after the Hunt High School senior put on a pair of “drunk goggles,” hit the gas pedal and tried to maneuver through the course, he thought otherwise.
“I didn’t think it was going to be this hard,” Mekhi said. “The trouble was backing up and turning around.”
That was the reaction the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office was hoping for Thursday as seniors participated in the program Project RIDE, an acronym for Realistic Impaired Driving Education.
The program aims to prevent impaired and distracted driving among seniors by giving them an up-close view at the dangers it can bring not only to themselves, but for others on the road.
Students were able to participate in realistic scenarios on several road courses to simulate driving while impaired, driving under the influence of marijuana and distracted driving.
The sheriff’s office has conducted the project for all seniors at Fike and Hunt, and will head to Beddingfield today.
“We always try to schedule it right before prom season,” said Sheriff Calvin Woodard. “We’re not trying to scare them, but we are trying to make them aware and educate them. It’s all about making good choices and decisions.”
Woodard said if youth don’t make the right choices, there could be consequences for themselves, someone they love or even an innocent bystander.
“It’s a real eye-opener,” he said.
MAKING GOOD CHOICES
When senior Jamal Smith finished driving the golf cart on the course, he said he still felt dizzy from the “drunk goggles.”
“It threw me off,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Jamal said he thought the program rang true for seniors.
“I think it’s good to know the dangers of it,” he said.
Senior Madison Worley put on a pair of “marijuana goggles” and tried to throw a ball into a trashcan. The goggles show how difficult hand-eye coordination can be.
“I was throwing it too hard because it looked like it was closer to me,” she said.
Madison said she also thought the program was a positive thing for youth.
“They are doing a really good job telling us it’s not good to do bad things,” she said, adding that it’s all about making a good choice instead of a bad one.
Woodard and deputies were also on hand during the program Thursday.
‘IT IS WORKING’
While students laughed at their friends trying to drive through the obstacle courses, they also learned a valuable lesson.
“We try to make sure they go through all the stations,” Woodard said about the setup at each school. “They come out here not knowing what to expect. But once they start doing it, you hear them conversating about it.”
Project RIDE is in its third year. Woodard said the sheriff’s office has received positive feedback from the students and deputies.
“I really feel strongly that it is working and has been working since the first time we began the (program),” Woodard said.
The sheriff’s office mobile command unit was set up at each high school. As a part of the program, students watched a brief but graphic video where other young people shared real-life stories about what happened when one of their friends chose to get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol or using drugs.
The sheriff’s office staff also set up a grill and fed students as well as gave them trinkets and materials. Woodard said he was grateful to the schools for allowing them to put on the program each year and community partners who make it possible. Those community partners include E.B. Webb, who provided the golf carts, Piggly Wiggly, Summerlin Oil Co. and Brewer Meat Products.