March 10, 2017
safe spring break

Contact: Zina L. Carter


Wharton County Junior College Police Academy cadet Nicholas Saldarriaga of Sugar Land attempts to maneuver a golf cart through an obstacle course while wearing "Fatal Vision" goggles. The eye wear simulates intoxication and was part of WCJC‚s annual Safe Spring Break event. 

WHARTON, TEXAS – Driving drunk while sober. Does this sound like a contradiction of terms? It’s not. During Wharton County Junior College’s recent Safe Spring Break event, students had the opportunity to perform a number of tasks while under the influence of simulated intoxication.

Sugar Land student Nicholas Saldarriaga, for instance, maneuvered a golf cart through a traffic cone course while donning “Fatal Vision” goggles. The eyewear simulates various degrees of intoxication, affecting both vision and perception. Saldarriaga, who is enrolled in the WCJC Police Academy, had a terrible time navigating the course, crushing several cones as he wrestled with the wheel. It was an eye-opening experience.

“Everything was blurry and seemed to be at a distance and you’ve got to try to do your best to maneuver,” he said. “My motor functions were really hampered. These goggles really show you how bad off you are when you’ve been drinking.”

To have students understand the dangers of intoxication – while still possessing their mental faculties and sense of awareness – is the beauty behind Safe Spring Break, said WCJC counselor and event organizer Patti Lawlor. Through the specialized goggles, driving simulators, an accident avoidance booth and several other exercises, event participants are able to understand just how serious impaired driving can be.

“The primary goal is to keep our students and employees safe over Spring Break,” Lawlor said. “We want them all to come back.”

Bobbi Brooks, Program Manager of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s Alcohol & Drug Awareness Program, brought a driving simulator and specialized “marijuana goggles” to the event.

“We’ve had huge success with these devices,” she said. “We can talk to them about the dangers of drunk driving, but what they really want us to do is show them.”

At the event, El Campo student Isaias Avila attempted a field sobriety test while donning the impairment goggles. Had the test been real, he would have likely been looking at a trip to the county jail.

“My vision was off and I kept losing my balance,” Avila said. “This really showed me what it feels like to be drunk and what could happen.”

WCJC’s annual Safe Spring Break event was held March 8 at the Pioneer Student Center on the Wharton campus. The event was hosted by WCJC’s Department of Academic Advising and Counseling Services as well as the college’s Office of Campus Security and Public Safety. Participating organizations included the Wharton and El Campo police departments, the Wharton County Sheriff’s Department, the Department of Public Safety, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the Bay Area Council on Drugs and Alcohol (BACODA), the Matagorda Episcopal Health Outreach Program (MEHOP) of Bay City and soberrides.org (sponsored by TxDOT). WCJC Police Academy cadets also assisted and Great Western Dining Services provided refreshments.