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Learning early about dangers of drinking and driving

Though those who attended the Taneytown Law Enforcement Education Program Monday are not old enough to get their learner's permits — or legally consume alcohol, for that matter — they got a lesson about the dangers of driving under the influence.

The group of seventh and eighth graders from Northwest Middle School learned about DUI enforcement on the second night of a four-evening program offered throughout April and May.

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"It's to show the kids that police work isn't all what they see in TV and movies," said Officer Steven Sakadales, program coordinator.

"I think it's a lot of fun and I'm actually learning," Liberty Kramer, 13, said.

Dylan Moran, 13, said he attended the program last year but returned this spring because he enjoyed the experience learned a lot.

"I like doing it," he said. "I like learning this kind of stuff."

Moran said he hopes to work in law enforcement and appreciates learning some of the language and processes ahead of time.

Monday, the students learned the steps involved in making a traffic stop when an officer suspects a driver is impaired, beginning with observations of the driver on the road and continuing through field sobriety tests and a preliminary breath test.

Moran said he was surprised about the length of the document police have to read to suspected impaired drivers.

Sakadales played videos from actual DUI stops and asked students to identify clues police would be looking for to show that a driver is impaired.

"What it basically comes down to is following instructions," Sakadales said. "When someone's impaired by alcohol, they can only focus on one thing at a time."

Officers Josh Rummel and Tim Lookingbill assisted with the course. Rummel said he has won the department award for DUI stops in the past.

"You stop enough cars, you're going to get a drunk," he said.

After students were instructed on the standard field sobriety tests, they got to test their skills while wearing drunk goggles, which simulate vision at a blood alcohol level of between 0.08 to 0.15.

Each student was asked to perform the walk-and-turn test, which requires walking heel-to-toe without using the arms for balance and counting the steps.

One by one, each of the students stepped off the line, waved arms to regain balance and staggered. For an extra challenge, Rummel and Lookingbill took turns tossing a plastic ball to students to test their hand-eye coordination.

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Kramer said she has worn drunk goggles in school before and Monday's exercise was an improvement.

"Last time I did the goggles, I ran into a wall," she said.

While students laughed at each other falling down and losing balance, Sakadales reminded them DUI is a serious matter.

"It's not funny when it's on the street," he said. "They're putting the entire community at risk."

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