Drug and drunk suits at Rose City Ford simulate impairment

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With sudden double vision, a hand tremor, heavy limbs and stiff joints, it’s tough to walk and focus — but driving in that condition could be deadly.

Reminding drivers to stay sober behind the wheel, Rose City Ford Wednesday strapped members of the media into drug and drunk impairment suits, simulating the influence of recreational substances on the body. Weights were attached to one wrist and the ankle on the opposite side to throw wearers off balance, while stiff fabric wrapped around elbows and knees made any bending a challenge. A glove pulsed tremors into one hand, and disorienting goggles and headphones skewed sight and hearing.

“It’s the weirdest feeling ever,” said Howell Ricketts, a sales consultant at the Windsor dealership. He gave the gear a try before reporters arrived for the experience. “I could not keep my balance. I couldn’t walk straight. Even my head felt weird.”

He thought because he was fully aware of the constraints and distractions, he would be able to combat their effects, he said. Instead, that made him conscious of how little control he truly had over his body and his senses.

Windsor Star reporter, Taylor Campbell, tries on a drugged driving suit, created by Ford Canada, while at Rose City Ford, Wednesday, May 15, 2019. The suit allows one to experience what it might be like while being high on drugs and how impaired you’d become. Dax Melmer / Windsor Star

“I was walking like I’d never walked before in my life,” Ricketts said. “It was like the first time a baby starts to walk, all wobbly, even though I thought I could do it.”

Wearing the suit was only part of the challenge. Weaving through a line of pylons on foot without kicking any of them was near impossible, especially with faulty depth perception and everything in sight duplicated by goggles.

“I’m looking down at something and I still couldn’t tell if it’s right there or if it’s somewhere else,” said Ricketts. “My eyes were deceiving me. I’ve never felt like that before.”

Scott Ohler, general manager of Rose City Ford, said the dealership wanted to use the suit to spark conversation about the importance of making good choices when “enjoying a beverage, or something else.” Ford Motor Company and a German engineering company partnered in 2014 to develop the drunk suit, he said. The drug suit, which has distraction goggles instead of ones that simulate high blood alcohol levels, was built more recently.

Windsor Star reporter, Taylor Campbell, tries on a drugged driving suit, created by Ford Canada, while at Rose City Ford, Wednesday, May 15, 2019. The suit allows one to experience what it might be like while being high on drugs and how impaired you’d become. Dax Melmer / Windsor Star

“We want people to understand that while it’s great to have a good time, it’s also really important that we’re responsible and we make good choices before we get behind the wheel.” Ohler said. He noted the upcoming Victoria Day long weekend as an example of an instance where celebrators need to be particularly mindful.

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During the week ending in Victoria Day last year, deemed Canada Road Safety Week, Ontario Provincial Police laid 124 impaired driving charges. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, car crashes involving drug or alcohol-related impairment kill an average of four people each day nationwide.

“It’s really scary now to think that somebody could be like that handling anything, I’m talking about the basics of walking, let alone being in a car where you have to be cognizant of a lot of different things,” said Howell.

In Canada, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol concentration limit over 0.08 per cent. The prohibited drug concentration level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive component of cannabis, is two billionths of a gram per millilitre of blood.

tcampbell@postmedia.com

twitter.com/wstarcampbell

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