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UMD students get sobering lessons

Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Neil Dickenson watches as UMD student Adam Reynolds tries to walk a straight line while wearing alcohol impairment simulation goggles at Kirby Student Center on Wednesday. Local law enforcement officers were on campus talking about the dangers of driving under the influence. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 2
UMD freshman Ali Walsh sees how accurately she can throw a bean bag while wearing alcohol impairment simulation goggles. Duluth police Sgt. Ryan Morris (right) and other law enforcement officers were at UMD’s Kirby Student Center on Wednesday to demonstrate the dangers of driving under the influence. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 2

According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 74 lives were lost in drunken-driving-related crashes in Minnesota in 2016. On average, 285 people are arrested for a DWI each weekend in the state.

On Wednesday, the University of Minnesota Duluth hosted an event to raise awareness of those numbers, and drunken driving in general.

"We're here to promote the message about the dangers of driving under the influence," said Sgt. Neil Dickenson of the Minnesota State Patrol. "We put out the 74 unwrapped gifts to represent the lives that were lost in 2016."

UMD students had the chance to wear "drunk goggles" — which, when worn, simulate alcohol impairment — while either trying to pass a field sobriety test with a state trooper or play bean-bag toss.

Students wearing the goggles stumbled while trying to walk in a straight line, missed miserably at bean bag toss and even had a hard time just lifting one leg off the ground. The goggles are supposed to portray a blood-alcohol level of 0.17 to 0.20, which is more than twice the legal limit of 0.08. That might seem like a lot to some, but the average blood-alcohol level for a DWI in Minnesota is 0.16, Dickenson said.

"I think it would be very bad to get in a car with a (blood-alcohol level comparable) to the goggles," UMD student Ben Thelen said after trying a sobriety test with the goggles on. "I couldn't even see the line when I was walking, so I couldn't imagine trying to drive."

UMD personnel and the law enforcement officers putting on the event said they want the holiday season to be safe for everyone. They stressed the importance of always finding a sober ride and also not allowing others to get behind the wheel if they've been drinking.

"We're hoping that if we let the students know now, they'll never do it," said Gina Pudlick, operations manager at UMD's Kirby Student Center. "Students are not invincible and they have to be aware of that."