AUSTIN (Nexstar)– The Texas Department of Transportation is promoting a creative way to tackle drinking and driving in the state.
The agency uses a virtual dodgeball game to remind Texans about “how drinking can impair a driver’s reflexes.”
“The goal here is to get people to plan while you can,” TxDOT spokesperson Chris Bishop said.”We want you to understand that what you need to do is to plan for a way to get home. Plan for a way to get where you’re going while you’re able to, not after you’ve had a few drinks. Plan for it in advance.”
The agency targeted students at the University of Texas at Austin for this particular demonstration on Wednesday, because most alcohol-related crashes involve people between the ages of 18 to 35.
Students stepped up to a booth, which had a screen that tracked their movements as they tried to dodge balls being thrown at them. The 75-second game slows down players’ ability to react as it raises the amount of alcohol.
“It was intense at the end,” UT student Stephanie Lutz said. “The first time, without any drinks, was kind of easy, like the reaction time wasn’t really that bad, and then by the end, after three drinks, I couldn’t even move and get out of the way before it hit me.”
Another participant, student Isha Dighe, said the game “got a lot harder as it went.”
Student Mark Beckman agreed.
“If I can’t even dodge a football, I could not even operate a car or anything like that,” he said. “That would be crazy.”
According to TxDOT, there were 24,807 alcohol-related traffic crashes in Texas involving drivers under the influence of alcohol in 2015. Those crashes resulted in 1,000 deaths and 2,210 serious injuries.
In 2016, TxDOT reported 24,629 crashes involving drivers under the influence of alcohol, which resulted in 1,005 fatalities and 2,316 serious injuries.
Bishop said 28 percent of crashes in Texas in 2016 were alcohol-related.
“You don’t have to be in a big city in order to have problems with drinking and driving,” Bishop explained. “Alcohol is available everywhere, and everybody is going to do it, regardless of where you are in the state, small towns, medium towns, big cities. The responsibility to do the right thing is the same everywhere.”
Bishop hoped the students would learn that the silly approach to a serious topic has real-world applications.
Lutz added, “I can’t even imagine driving [under the influence], you would see someone coming and wouldn’t even be able to get out of the way.”
TxDOT recommends people who plan to drink look for another way to get home, whether hailing a taxi, using public transportation, calling a ridesharing service or asking a friend. Soberrides.org has a tool to help people plan ahead.
TxDOT compiled 2016 Labor Day Weekend drunk driving data for 12 districts: