DOVER — Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long accidentally let an errant word slip after a pickup truck pulled across the road in front of her Thursday, leading to a nasty collision.
Thankfully, the accident only took place during the launch of Delaware’s first impaired-driving simulator program, where Lt. Gov. Hall-Long took the wheel to see how the device can deter individuals from driving while impaired by alcohol or distracted by a cellphone.
Delaware Alcohol & Tobacco Enforcement celebrated the launch of the initiative at the new Department of Safety and Homeland Security building at 800 S. Bay Road in Dover.
Lt. Gov. Hall-Long left impressed with the latest technology acquired by the state to keep people from driving impaired and distracted.
“The goal and mission of government is general safety and welfare,” she said before trying out the simulator. “I can’t wait to be one of your first public officials to participate and sit behind the wheel of the simulator.
“Sometimes, it takes that horrible arrest to get a person into treatment, but we shouldn’t be getting behind the wheel. It’s a privilege to be behind the wheel, and I think it’s important the steps that you are taking proactively (with the simulator) to keep our communities safe, whether driving to school, the grocery store, our favorite community activity, a religious setting — we should feel safe driving.”
John Yeomans, director of DATE, is the brainchild behind the new simulator and brought one to Delaware after seeing similar successful programs in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“In my law enforcement experience, which expands 35 years, I think this is the most realistic simulation I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It does focus on three things — impaired driving, distracted driving, texting and driving, we can actually simulate those type of scenarios — but there’s also another component of this that’s important. It also has the ability to present various pursuit scenarios for law enforcement officers, as well as first responders, being our fire service, as well as paramedics. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of scenarios that we can create and provide training (for) under very realistic circumstances by way of this simulator.”
Denee Crumrine, manager of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Communications, was on hand to present a $140,000 BluePrints for the Community grant to DATE to help finance the simulator. The project also received funds from the Office of Highway Safety and the Attorney General’s Office.
“Highmark Delaware’s BluePrints for the Community is pleased to support the purchase of an impaired-driving simulator for the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement, as they partner with schools and community-based organizations throughout the state to combat impaired driving. By providing real-life scenarios in a safe and controlled environment, good driving practices can be instilled in our young drivers,” Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield President Nick Moriello said.
Dr. Kimberly Chesser, director of the Office of Highway Safety, said the simulator has already made a couple visits in the community, including one to the campgrounds at the recent Firefly Music Festival at the Woodlands at Dover Downs.
“We were able to take the simulator out to Firefly, and what better place to teach about impaired driving?” she said. “We had phenomenal participation and great results, so I look forward to being able to get the simulator out across the state.
“We share a common mission, and that’s to keep people safe by preventing impaired driving. Driving under the influence impacts a driver’s judgment and reaction time, affecting a person’s ability to drive safely.”
Dr. Chesser pointed out that there were more than 1,000 traffic crashes in Delaware last year that involved an impaired driver, with 47 fatalities and nearly 4,000 DUI arrests. So far this year, the state has made more than 3,400 DUI arrests.
“Some drivers continue to overestimate their ability to drive after drinking, so what we have now is this new tool to lower those numbers,” she said. “We look forward to educating people with this. It’s an interactive impaired-driving simulator that allows drivers to experience just how much alcohol can impact their driving — but in a safe environment.
“Our hope is that drivers learn these lessons here and not on the road, so everyone can adopt safer driving practices.”
Nathaniel McQueen Jr., secretary of safety and homeland security, credited Mr. Yeomans for bringing the simulator to Delaware.
“The simulator program will allow drivers to experience what can happen when they operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or while distracted by a cellphone,” Mr. McQueen said. “The program will have tremendous impact on underage drinking, impaired driving and driver safety throughout the state. Impaired driving is entirely preventable.”
Mr. Yeomans said the uses for the simulator are wide-ranging and can be used at a multitude of locations — not just at high school driver’s education programs, though they will obviously be a target.
“We had a vision about this program several years ago,” he said. “As an alcohol law enforcement agency, we felt it was important to be creative and engaging when addressing impaired and distracted driving, mainly with our youth — but also exposing our alcohol industry members to the dangers associated with overservice of alcohol to patrons and/or minors.
“Our goal is to make the simulator available to schools, our Department of Education, our driver’s education programs throughout the state, community groups, the alcohol industry members and law enforcement agencies, as well as a multitude of other stakeholders.”