A year ago, Ford Motor Company added an impairment suit simulator to its Driving Skills for Life (DSFL) program that is aimed at teaching newly licensed teens the necessary skills for safe driving beyond what they learn in standard driver-education programs.
The impairment suit allows a person to feel what it is like to operate a car under the influence of alcohol.
“Different pieces go on different parts of your body such as weighted pieces for your ankles and your arms, elbow, knee and then goggles to simulate blurred vision and also headphones to affect hearing,” said Mark Smith, president of Dick Smith Ford at 9505 East 350 Highway in Raytown.
“By the time all the pieces go on and then (you) to try to walk with it, it very much simulates what it is to be impaired. They did a test group of 19- to 24-year-olds with this suit and they acknowledged that this is what it is like to be impaired.”
The entire purpose of the program is to save teen lives on the highways. Memorial Day to Labor Day is a particularly dangerous time for teenagers on the highway because school is out. It is known as the 100 deadliest days for teen drivers.
Ford Motor Company, Smith said, is dedicated to making the driving experience safer for teens.
DSFL was established in 2003 by Ford Motor Company Fund, the Governors Highway Safety Association and a panel of safety experts.
“Ford takes it all around the country,” Smith said. “We had an event last August at Worlds of Fun. We had hundreds of teens come. They learn safe driving skills from professional drivers as well as learning about impaired driving.”
Getting in the impairment suit lets a teen know just how difficult it is to operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.
“This can prevent that temptation from being fulfilled by putting this on and saying, ‘Wow, I really shouldn’t drive like this,’” Smith said. “There is a lot of peer pressure and all. No one wants a life-changing experience that would really ruin somebody’s life.
“Ford is really committed to try to make sure they do all they can to encourage safe driving, especially among younger drivers.”
Smith said the DSFL program last year at Worlds of Fun was successful.
Leanna Depue, highway safety director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, was happy that DSFL made a stop in Kansas City last year.
“Missouri’s young drivers continue to be substantially overrepresented in traffic crashes,” Depue said in a press release last August. “This important program will help improve their basic driving skills and emphasize the critical need to buckle up and keep their focus on the road.”
She hoped that participants shared what they learned with friends and family.
“Teenagers are the least experienced,” Smith said. “Even the most serious, conscientious teen lacks experience.
“Now, they have this impairment suit that some of them can put on and actually get the feeling of what it is like to be impaired and hopefully that makes a bigger point with them.”
To learn more about DSFL, go to www.drivingskillsforlife.com. The website also shows the cities that will have the hands-on driving session this summer. It will be Omaha, Neb., July 11-12 and Des Moines, Iowa, July 15-16.