By Victor O'Brien
Killeen Daily Herald
Killeen Police Department and area colleges are taking steps to make sure the sunny days of spring break don't turn tragic.
The Killeen Police Department stepped up patrols starting last Friday through March 23, the time when local students will be on spring break. The increased patrols were made possible due by a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation as part of the Impaired Driver Mobilization Program.
TxDOT spokesman Ken Roberts said 24 other Texas police departments are participating in the spring break program.
The equation is simple for Killeen PD.
"The more officers on the roads, the more we watch and the more lives that are saved," KPD spokeswoman Carroll Smith said. "It's right at the time of spring break where the weather starts getting warm and you got a lot of people drinking."
Smith said it is common that people enjoy the warm climate with a few drinks, and then some will decide to drive.
KPD has participated in similar programs with TxDOT around other holidays such as Christmas, New Year's and Labor Day.
Not only are more people drinking, but with students and teachers out of school, there is just more traffic on the roadways adding to the danger, Smith said.
KPDs increased patrols are a way for the department to step in the way before tragedy strikes.
"We'd rather be proactive than reactive," Smith said.
The increased patrols will not only happen during the nighttime, but also the daytime.
"Drinking and driving doesn't have a certain time," Smith said. "Believe it or not, we arrest people at noon for DUI. Fortunately, we're able to catch them before they hurt someone."
UMHB students promote safe spring break
Also hoping to step in before it's too late, students from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor's Baptist Student Ministries will be taking an unconventional approach to the South Padre Island spring break festivities.
About 30 students will head down to South Padre Island from March 16 to 21 to aid partygoers in acting responsibly, UMHB spokeswoman Carol Woodward said.
"When you have 20,000 students on an island and their sole purpose is to go party and get drunk, it can become a very dangerous place, not only with vehicles, but people who are inebriated and don't know what to do at the time," said Weston Savell, a UMHB team captain for the South Padre mission trip.
The UMHB students will join students from similar groups at other Texas universities in providing free van rides for spring break vacationers who aren't fit to be behind the wheel of a car.
Also, they cook late-night pancake breakfasts to feed the students, which helps their body with alcohol consumption.
"It's definitely a blessing in my life," Savell said. "It really hits home when we see people from our own school there that we're getting to help."
Sober students experience drunk driving
Administrators and faculty at Central Texas College also took a step to give their students a glimpse at what drinking and driving feels like before they even grab their keys.
The campus was visited Thursday by the Professionals Encouraging Educational Reform Statewide AWARE III DWI Simulator, a computer-generated system that uses a virtual-reality helmet to simulate various driving conditions.
The students stepped into the driver seat of a Chevrolet Aveo, put on the virtual reality helmet then drove as they would normally, using the car's steering wheel.
Inside the helmet, students navigated scenarios such as mountain driving, cone navigating and the unexpected incident of a pedestrian cutting across the street.
The catch was the steering and the wheels respond as if the person driving was intoxicated.
The simulation used body weight and drink estimates to produce a desired blood alcohol concentration level and then the simulator's settings adjust to show how difficult driving would be with that BAC level.
The program wasn't initially planned to happen near spring break, but CTC considers itself fortunate the simulator's schedule worked out that way, Dr. Gerald Mahone-Lewis said.
Mahone-Lewis, who counsels students on substance abuse and other mental health issues, pushed for the grant.
Also, before spring break, she asks students that she counsels about their plans, how they plan to be safe and the potential consequences of drinking.
"What I have found is that a number of the young people that come in are really pretty conscientious, but they love the idea of really having fun," Mahone-Lewis said. "This program is to spur the thought process."
"A lot of college kids think they can have one or two beers and they will think, 'It will not affect me.' This is a great way for them to experience firsthand that some of the decisions they make will actually affect their driving," said Bruce Vasbinder, CTC's spokesman.
The simulation was different from previous simulation programs because the students actually sat inside a vehicle, Vasbinder said.
Meagan Ezzell, a sophomore, said she expected it to be easy to pass the simulator, but said it was difficult, especially when they increased the simulated BAC.
Ezzell said she does not drive drunk or drive with friends who have been drinking, but does know friends who do.
"I just don't think it's very wise," she said.
Contact Victor O'Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7468