Built in collaboration with scientists from the Meyer-Hentschel Institute in Germany, this unusual take on drug-oriented education offers the underexposed a chance to safely experience what it is like to control a vehicle under the effects of narcotics like cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy. The suit, which inhibits driving via the simulation of slower reaction times, distorted vision, hand tremors, and poor coordination, is slated to join a handful of other awareness programs beneath the “Ford Driving Skills for Life” umbrella. This award-winning young driver program has reportedly provided training to more than 500,000 people around the world since its inception, and thanks to its hands-on approach, and online tuition it continues to prove to be a huge success 11 years later.
“Driving after taking illegal drugs can have potentially fatal consequences for the driver, their passengers, and other road users,” says James Graham, global program manager for Ford Driving Skills for Life. “We have already seen first-hand the eye-opening effect that our Drunk Driving Suit has had on those who wear it, and are confident that our new Drugged Driving Suit will have a similar impact.”
Still not convinced that this is a worthy cause and not just a bunch of stuck-up squares trying to piss on Washington’s pot parade? Recent national data shows drugged driving is seriously on the rise, and we aren’t just talking about stoned college kids waiting in line at Taco Bell at 2 a.m. According to the most recent findings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 18% of all motor vehicle driver deaths involve drugs other than alcohol. Scarier yet, the increased popularity of cheap, overtly potent heroin flooding America’s streets means that smacked-out individuals are shooting up and going for a cruise Travolta-style save for the fact that they typically don’t drive badass bright red Chevy Malibus. Attach that to a NHTSA roadside survey that found over 22% of all drivers either tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs, and we have an epidemic on our hands of monolithic proportions.
Last year Ford saw some serious success with its “Drunk Driving Suit,” which essentially simulated the effects of a solid beer buzz by hampering drivers with reduced mobility, vision, and coordination via the use of cumbersome padding, ankle weights, goggles, and headphones. While these suits may not have the exact same effects as being messed-up (no one broke out into spontaneous yodeling), they do create a sensation that young drivers in the film describe as being very similar to being blitzed.
“We know that some drugs can cause trembling hands, so we incorporated a device into the suit that creates just such a tremor,” said Gundolf Meyer-Hentschel, CEO of the Meyer-Hentschel Institute. “Drug users sometimes see flashing lights in their peripheral field, an effect recreated by our goggles, while imaginary sounds are generated by the headphones. Additionally, the goggles distort perception, and produce colorful visual sensations – a side effect of LSD use.”
It may sound like a trippy good time, but according to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, “approximately 9.9 million people 12 and older reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs.” Not convinced that this was enough to sway stoners, Ford sourced a boatload of meta-analysis from multiple studies by the National Institute of Health to prove that even smoking pot doubles one’s risk of being involved in an accident.
Originally established in 2003, the Ford Driving Skills for Life campaign is bankrolled and controlled by the Ford Motor Company Fund, the Governors Highway Safety Association, and a panel of safety experts. With its unorthodox approach toward raising awareness, the ultimate goal of the program remains a fairly simple one: Ford wishes to “teach newly licensed teens and parents the necessary skills for safe driving beyond what they learn in standard driver education programs.” If all goes well, Ford hopes that by the end of 2015 the international program will be offered in 30 countries, with a hands-on driving clinic in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Behind-the-wheel training is slated to reach more than 150,000 international drivers by the end of the year as well, and regardless of how effective the program is, you can’t help but wonder if the guys at Ford will occasionally put one of these suits on for casual Friday so they can mess with their coworkers.