Published Online: February 19, 1997

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Eyes of experience

Sixth graders in Fond du Lac, Wis., recently got a taste of what it feels like to be intoxicated without ever taking a sip of alcohol.

During a lecture on drug education, 55 students at Rosenow Elementary School were asked to put on a pair of glasses--Fatal Vision goggles--and walk along a narrow strip of tape.

The glasses simulate the feeling of inebriation through a collection of prisms embedded in the lenses, but look more like aviator goggles than clunky virtual reality headgear. They aren't intended to distort vision, but to alter depth perception and generally upset the wearer's equilibrium.

With the goggles on, the students wobbled and stumbled their way across the classroom one by one. None would have passed a standard field sobriety test, said Pat O'Hearn, a local police officer who taught the drug education class.

"Kids need to realize people are out there driving this way, and that leads to fatalities. This is a great tool," he said.

Since its introduction last year, the Fatal Vision kit--complete with goggles, video guide, and walk-the-line tape--has taken off. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has bought six kits and lends them to schools.

More than 200 of the kits, which carry a $5.95 price tag, have been sold to schools and businesses in 17 states, according to Curt Kindschuh, the vice president of marketing for Innocorp Ltd., the Verona, Wis.-based manufacturer.

Mr. Kindschuh, a former state director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said he developed the product because he wanted to give students a drinking and driving lesson that had an immediate, powerful impact.

Nancy Hackbarth, Rosenow Elementary's principal, said she took the goggles for a spin last month.

"They told me to walk on the line, and I was nowhere near it," she said. "It made me sick to my stomach."

--JESSICA PORTNER

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