Program uses virtual reality to teach kids dangers of impaired driving

Students at St. Gabriel Elementary School in Regina got an up-close look at the dangers of driving while impaired Thursday.

MADD Canada's SmartWheels program aimed at children in grades 4 to 6

Students at St. Gabriel School Thursday use virtual reality goggles to experience the dangers of driving while impaired, as part of MADD Canada's SmartWheels program. (CBC)

Students at St. Gabriel Elementary School in Regina got an up-close look Thursday at the dangers of driving while impaired.

Students in grades 4 through 6 took part in Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada's SmartWheels program. The organization has equipped a 12-metre RV with technology such as projectors, tablets and virtual reality goggles that allow students to experience what it's like to drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

The program is being introduced in the province with help from Saskatchewan Government Insurance and the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority.

MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie said it's an attempt to educate kids while they're young.

MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie said the SmartWheels program is aimed at elementary school children. (CBC)

"Grade 7 we start to see considerable use with cannabis and alcohol experimentation," said Murie. "So if we can get them before that starts, that's the perfect age."

Grade 6 student Rachel Kuntz tried her hand at the virtual reality exhibit. She watched as she "drove" erratically through streets, narrowly missing a pedestrian.

"It was scary," said Kuntz. "I was very nervous."

Rachel Kuntz, a Grade 6 student at St. Gabriel Elementary School, said she felt scared as she watched the impaired driving simulation through her virtual reality goggles. (CBC News )

She said the experience taught her an important lesson about driving impaired.

"Don't do it," she said.

'Total commitment' to combating impaired driving

Saskatchewan has seen consistently high numbers of impaired driving offences. In 2018, the province saw about 531 incidents per 100,000 people — the fourth highest rate in the country. Murie believes education is needed to change the culture around impaired driving.

He said there's been a "total commitment" by government to deal with the issue in the last couple of years. He remembers visiting the province in the past and being "frustrated" by the lack of work done.

"There'd be lip service to the issue," he said. "Now there's action."

Saskatchewan is the second province after Ontario to take part in the SmartWheels program. The RV will travel to other schools across the province over the next three years.


Ethan Williams

Weather and climate journalist

Ethan Williams is a weather and climate reporter and presenter for CBC News in Saskatchewan, based in Regina. Catch CBC Saskatchewan News with Sam Maciag and Ethan Williams weeknights at 6 p.m. CST for your local news and weather. Get in touch with him:

With files from CBC News Saskatchewan at 6 p.m.