About 30 youths from the Boys and Girls Club of San Antonio experienced the simulated effects of being under the influence of alcohol and drugs in a safe setting.
The youth, ranging in age from 13-16 years old, participated in the free Watch UR BAC youth education program presented by traffic safety programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in collaboration with the Texas Department of Transportation, TxDOT.
“Watch UR BAC teaches young people in Texas about the dangers of using alcohol and other drugs, including binge drinking and underage drinking,” said Bobbi Brooks, AgriLife Extension program manager, Bryan-College Station, who presented the program. “It also gives them an understanding of the consequences of alcohol and drug use, as well as the dangers of driving while impaired.”
Rachel Walker, AgriLife Extension traffic safety program director in the agency’s Family and Community Health unit, Bryan-College Station, said the program presented in San Antonio was part of an effort to bring alcohol and drug awareness to youth and others in areas of the state where data shows higher instances of impaired driving. The Texas Department of Transportation identified some of these areas as Bexar, Ector, Gillespie, Harris, Hidalgo, Medina and Smith counties.
“For the past 36 years, traffic safety education projects conducted by AgriLife Extension and receiving federal funds through TxDOT have been helping reduce motor vehicle fatalities and injuries in Texas,” Walker said.
Watch UR BAC provides DUI education
During the Watch UR BAC program at the Boys and Girls Club in San Antonio, participants were given a presentation on the dangers and possible social and legal ramifications of being under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
To help make the experience more authentic, they were asked to wear special goggles – one pair that simulated alcohol impairment and another that simulated impairment from marijuana – and perform different levels of motor skills requiring concentration and coordination. Those old enough to drive were allowed to use the program’s DWI prevention simulator while wearing the specialized goggles to see how coordination and reaction times were affected.
“It was really great to have AgriLife Extension come out and make this presentation,” said Keon Jackson, senior director of Extended Day Program Operations, Boys and Girls Clubs of San Antonio.
Jackson said the club is located in an underserved area and some of the kids have probably been exposed to the effects of alcohol or drug use at some point in their life.
“A program like this allows us to address the topic and get ahead of the problem, especially before they get pressured by their peers,” he said.
Jackson said he learned about the Watch UR BAC program through Angie Gutierrez, AgriLife Extension family and community health agent for Bexar County.
“We already knew about AgriLife Extension through Angie because she had come to us with other youth programs like the Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! youth gardening program,” he said. “When she told us the Watch UR BAC people would be in town, we saw a great opportunity to educate our club members on the dangers of alcohol and drug use and driving under the influence.”
Boys and Girls Club member Andrea Hernandez said the Watch UR BAC experience solidified her feelings about alcohol and drug use.
“I’ve had people offer me drugs, but I refused,” she said. “After hearing more about the dangers and consequences of using drugs and wearing the goggles that showed me what it was like to be on drugs, I knew I should continue to avoid them. It was like having an out-of-body experience where I had no control.”
Program attendee Elijah De Luna tried the impaired driving simulation.
“Wearing those goggles really affected my coordination and reaction time,” he said. “I wasn’t able to respond as fast as I normally would if I was driving.”
Gutierrez said additional Watch UR BAC program training is being planned for Bexar County and other counties with higher-than-average instances of DUI.
“Kids learn by doing, and the Watch UR BAC program is especially effective because it combines instruction about the practical aspects of alcohol and drug use,” Gutierrez said. “There are also lots of interesting hands-on activities that help participants get a realistic idea of what it is like to be under the influence. Most importantly, it provides this vital information at a crucial time in their lives.”
While in San Antonio, Brooks also presented the Watch UR BAC program to Boys and Girls Clubs of San Antonio members at Gus Garcia Middle School and Calderon Teen Center.
About the Watch UR BAC Program
In 2012, AgriLife Extension, through a grant from TxDOT, developed Watch UR BAC as a free resource for Texas community groups, faith-based organizations, schools and businesses. The “BAC” in the name refers to blood alcohol concentration, which determines an individual’s degree of intoxication.
In 2022, the Watch UR BAC program reached approximately 50,000 people statewide.
“Texas leads the nation in deaths due to driving while impaired,” Walker said. “Furthermore, one in three high school students admit to getting into a vehicle with someone who is impaired.”
Brooks said using the DWI driving simulator in the program makes the effects of impaired driving more real to program participants. It also employs the use of a motorcycle simulator to help educate motorcyclists on the dangers of impaired driving.
Watch UR BAC educational materials are available in both English and Spanish, and programs can be tailored to meet clients’ needs at schools, businesses and community venues. The program incorporates educational instruction with reality education through guest speakers, educational resources, interactive discussions and stories of fatalities and injuries that have changed lives forever.
Brooks said the Watch UR BAC program is an excellent resource for rural and urban communities with underserved populations because all programs are presented at no cost, thanks to the TxDOT grant.
“Another advantage of this Watch UR BAC program is that we can involve our statewide network of AgriLife Extension agents in offering and implementing this program in their communities,” she said. “These agents work in and know their communities and understand the needs of their communities. They also understand how we can best provide and present information on alcohol and drug use to people of all ages in their community.”