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On average, there are 400 drug driving arrests made in the UK every month, and drivers in control of a vehicle after taking illegal substances are 30 times more likely to have a fatal accident than those who are sober. These two frightening statistics have encouraged Ford to create a suit that lets you see and feel what it's like to drive a car while high.
IBTimes UK was invited to try out the suit – one of only two in the world – at Ford's Dunton Technical Centre in Essex. Here, with a large expanse of tarmac to ourselves and away from any other drivers, I put on the suit, stumbled towards the car, dropped myself into the driver's seat and boldly went where my brain really, really didn't want me to go.
Starting a car and putting on the seatbelt with my vision so badly impaired by the suit's goggles was a major psychological challenge in itself, before the physical challenges even began.
It just feels so wrong. An evolution of Ford's drink-drive equipment, the way the goggles caused blurry double vision was spookily familiar to anyone who knows their way around an Oceana nightclub.
Having a cameraman in the back seat no doubt added to the realism, making it feel like I was giving a mate a lift home. We'll be fine. I've only had a couple. The roads are quiet at this time....
What is the Ford drug-drive suit?
Developed in partnership with scientists from the Meyer-Hentschel Institute in Germany, the suit does not aim to simulate the effects of specific drugs, but instead gives a broad idea of what it's like to be distracted by the symptoms of being high or drunk.
First, I was given a heavy strap to wrap around my right leg. This made me walk like a pirate with a wooden stump, but also made it difficult to smoothly operate the brake and accelerator. Next came a strap for each knee, wrapped tightly to limit movement, then two further weighted straps for my forearms.
After these, there was a neck brace to limit head movement and slow down my ability to check blind spots, followed by a glove that caused my right hand to tremor. Finally, a pair of goggles wrapped in Christmas tree lights gave me an extreme case of double vision, and some headphones played the kind of haunting backing music that always leads to a back alley murder in films.
While the weights and straps do a good job of limiting movement, it was the goggles and headphones that had the biggest effect by far. I felt deeply uncomfortable walking towards the car, a feeling made worse when I missed the door handle on my first attempt.
Seat belt on, first gear selected, I set off. The tremor device made me think the car was juddering in the wrong gear, the headphones meant I couldn't hear myself think, let alone hear the car or my passenger, and the goggles meant the slalom of cones I was to navigate around went off in two different directions.
Like a drunk focusing on a 4am TV shopping channel
Closing one eye like a drunk trying to focus on a 4am television shopping channel, I steered around the cones as best I could, not really knowing where they were and certain most would end up lodged under the brand new car. Miraculously, I didn't hit any, but this is almost certainly down to luck rather than skill. On my second attempt, keeping both eyes open, I drove into a cone without really noticing until I felt it go under the car. You don't need me to give examples of what the cone could have been on a public road.
Clearly, this was a weird experience. And while the suit may not have accurately simulated what it's like to drive while high, the memory of feeling horribly uncomfortable putting my seat belt on and setting off with a passenger in the back, with my vision badly affected, will stick with me.
Ford hopes the 18-to-24-year-olds who take part in its Driving Skills For Life event at the Excel Centre in London this weekend (20 and 21 November) will come away with the same memories and the same awareness.