Tripping at Lakeland Ford

The author, wearing the suit at Lakeland Ford on Monday.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be high on cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, marijuana and LSD, all at once, the Ford Motor Company of Canada has the answer.

In partnership with a German laboratory, the automaker has designed a “Drugged Driving Suit” to mimic the effects of all five drugs. But only the bad effects. No high, no euphoria, no devil-may-care attitude – just the impairment, the complete perceptual and motor breakdown that makes it a bad idea, a very bad idea, to drive a car while under the influence of drugs.

The suit is making its way through Saskatchewan for a media tour, as part of Ford’s education campaign about the dangers of impaired driving. It challenges widespread beliefs, especially among young people, that driving high is safer than driving drunk.

On Monday, during its stop at Lakeland Ford, we got the chance to try it out.

The suit is really an assortment of discrete parts. Elbow and knee pads reduce mobility. Weights produce a lumbering, irregular stagger. Earphones provide the auditory hallucinations. (Again, never the fun ones, just a shifting, eery, droning hum.) Eyeglasses supply the visuals. Everything is doubled, blinking, colourful… and unexpectedly terrifying.

The worst, probably, is the glove. Or really it’s the vibrating poof, a pom-pom of sorts, attached to it. The vibrations simulate tremors, the kind induced by large amounts of stimulants like cocaine.

Together, those elements turn the simplest tasks into a daunting challenge. Like catching a ball. Or walking in a straight line. The line becomes so many lines, slitting off in so, so many directions. It’s pretty clear that, in this suit, passing a roadside driving test would be impossible.

Scott Newsom, general manager of Lakeland Ford, tried the glasses on for himself.

“Undoubtedly you’re very, very, very impaired,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine someone driving like this. I can see two of you right now: two of your heads, and four arms.”

Data from the Youth Health Survey, recently released to the Herald by the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region, show that marijuana is the most popular drug – by far – amongst Prince Albert area youth. A smaller number of students admitted to using ecstasy, cocaine and hallucinogens like LSD.

Roughly the same number of kids drive high as drive drunk, the survey suggests. And even more – about 16 per cent – said they’ve gotten in a car driven by someone impaired by drugs.

To those kids, the Drugged Driving Suit sends a clear message: if you take enough drugs, you’re not going to be able to catch a ball gently tossed at you by a Ford Motor Company of Canada employee. So, please, don’t get behind the wheel.