Arrive Alive: Students use VR to learn about dangers of impaired driving

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 30, 2022

EDGARD — Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States, according to the CDC. Approximately one-third of all traffic fatalities in the nation are linked to impairment from alcohol, a statistic matched by regional data in Southeast Louisiana.

The South Central Regional Safety Coalition is working together with local partners and the Arrive Alive Tour to bring awareness to the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.

This week, West St. John High School students got behind the wheel of the Arrive Alive vehicle and strapped on a VR headset to simulate drunk driving, driving under the influence of THC, and texting while driving. With every crash, students learned a valuable lesson about the power of their choices.

Arrive Alive is the No. 1 drunk, the No. 1 distracted and the only THC driving simulator in the country, according to brand ambassador Taylor Roedl.

“We go around the country to high schools and colleges and basically talk about the dangers and consequences of those impairments. They hop in a fully functioning vehicle, and they use the gas pedal, brake pedal and the steering wheel as they would a real car,” Roedl said. “We want them to enjoy it, but we also want it to be very informational. At first, they might not take it too seriously. Once they see the possibilities of what can happen and we throw statistics at them, they start to take it a bit more seriously.”

Cassie Parker of the South Central Planning & Development Commission, the agency that staffs the South Central Regional Safety Coalition, said education is an important component to reducing the number of fatal accidents on Louisiana roadways.

Preliminary data from 2021 indicates there were more than 1,000 deaths on Louisiana roads in a 12-month timespan. Aggressive driving, impaired driving and use of cell phones have been common trends in traffic accidents.

“Less people were driving, but more people were still crashing,” Parker said. “We have way too many distracted driving crashes and impaired driving crashes involving marijuana and alcohol. It all starts with education, sharing that information with students. This puts us one step closer to reaching Destination Zero Deaths. The students are our most powerful speakers, and they don’t even know it yet. They can change things in a great way.”

According to Parker, it was especially important to bring the Arrive Alive tour to St. John Parish students because the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the educational programming for the past two years.

Comprised of law enforcement, schools, driving academies, EMS and a variety of other local partners, the South Central Regional Safety Coalition serves St. John the Baptist, St. James, St. Charles, Assumption, Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes.

Officers from the St. John Parish Sheriff’s Office were present alongside the Arrive Alive coordinators at West St. John this week. Students tried on Fatal Vision Alcohol Impairment Goggles and walked the line. During this time, they also got to know the officers that serve their community and had the opportunity to ask questions.

West St. John counselor Michael Lagarde said the Arrive Alive tour was open to all students from eighth through 12th grade. Special attention was given to educating the juniors and seniors who will be attending prom this spring. Lagarde said students need to understand the risks of not only driving under the influence of alcohol, but also driving under the influence of drugs.

“The biggest thing right now is kids vaping and not realizing that they have impairment from THC,” Lagarde said. “All of the high schools are seeing that problem across the state.”

Denarold Anderson and his mother, retired Judge Madeline Jasmine, helped bring the Arrive Alive Tour to St. John Parish. While the program began with West St. John the year, it will ideally target East St. John next year and continuing alternating for years to come.

Anderson said the South Central Regional Safety Coalition and the Arrive Alive Tour are guided by the same principles as his nonprofit organization, Thoughts Before Actions.

“If they choose to drive drunk or drive high, they could end their lives or someone else’s life. Even if they survive, they could be in jail for a long time,” Anderson said. “Thoughts Before Actions is about making sure youth make the right choice. This is a big choice they will have to make.”