By Lauren Wanko
Walking a straight line or catching a tennis ball. Pretty basic tasks, but not with fatal vision goggles — that which simulate what’s it like to walk or drive while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
“It just felt like everything was turning sideways,” said senior Faithani Fox.
“The number one killer of teens is fatal crashes. And a majority of these crashes, alcohol or other substances involved,” said Ocean County Intoxicated Driver Resource Center Director Peter Curatolo.
“I can tell you last year there were 46 fatal accidents in Ocean County alone — 46. Of those 46 probably about one-third of them involved alcohol or drugs,” said Officer Antonio Ellis.
Which is why the Ocean County Health Department sponsors a 3D event — Drinking, Drugging and Driving — in the county mall every year before prom season.
“We want to try to engage young people before they even get convicted so they won’t get convicted,” said Peter Curatolo.
Law enforcement officers asked students to walk and turn heel to toe.
“Forget trying to walk in a straight line. I was trying not to fall down,” said student James Juliano.
They attempted to catch a ball. Senior Simon Vingellis tried the one-leg stand. It didn’t work out too well for him.
“It’s like a different world to be honest. It completely turns you off,” he said.
“It shows them, hey if you’re drinking or if you’re using drugs and you try to operate a vehicle, you won’t be able to do it so don’t think that you can,” said Ellis.
When asked if it was a wake-up call for her, Fox said, “It was a wake-up call to me. I will not be getting in any cars and drinking and driving anytime soon.”
Ocean County Traffic Officers Association’s Antonio Ellis says it’s not just about alcohol.
“There’s more driving under the influence of an illicit drugs or prescription drugs now then we’re seeing alcohol related,” he said.
Ellis says that’s because prescription drugs are easy to get. Some people believe taking the pills is safer then other using other drugs. It’s also more difficult to trace, which is why the county continues to train a team of officers to do just that.
There are 25 Drug Recognition Experts or DREs right now in Ocean County. When a person is arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and their breath test reading isn’t as high as it would be under the influence of alcohol, a DRE is contacted, comes to the headquarters and conducts an evaluation.
“They can narrow down to seven categories of drugs,” Ellis said.
After the goggles demo, senior Juliano says he’s not even going to think about driving under the influence.
“If I can’t catch a tennis ball now, there’s no way I’m gonna drive a car?” he asked.
That’s what county officials want to hear.
“If we can save even one life it’s worth it,” said Curatolo.
The 3D event continues tomorrow at the Ocean County Mall.