Regina, Saskatchewan – Saskatchewan elementary school students can learn how it looks and feels to drive impaired by alcohol and drugs, thanks to an amazing new mobile classroom that incorporates virtual reality into a hard-hitting, interactive experience.

SmartWheels is MADD Canada’s latest initiative to bring sober driving education to young students. It is a 42-foot recreational vehicle that has been specially-outfitted with a large projection screen, individual tablets and virtual reality goggles. The program is designed to educate students about the risks of alcohol, drugs and driving – and provide them with safety strategies – long before they will need to make decisions about such things.

Students in Grades 4 – 6 board SmartWheels to participate in a fully interactive learning experience, including videos about the effects of alcohol and drugs, and virtual reality goggles that simulate how it looks and feels to drive while impaired.

SmartWheels is being officially launched today with a visit to students at St. Gabriel School in Regina. Joining MADD Canada for this special event will be the Honourable Joe Hargrave, Minister Responsible for Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), and the Honourable Gene Makowsky, Minister Responsible for Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA). The introduction of SmartWheels in Saskatchewan has been made possible through the generous support of SGI and SLGA.

“Education about the risks of impaired driving cannot just start when students reach the driving age,” said MADD Canada Chief Executive Officer Andrew Murie. “We need to lay the groundwork early and revisit the message often so that when these young people reach the age where they may be faced with choices about alcohol and drug consumption and driving, they have the knowledge and confidence to make safe, responsible choices. We want to thank SGI and SLGA for their partnership in helping us deliver this powerful new program in Saskatchewan.”

“This innovative approach will help young people establish a strong foundation for a future of safe and sober driving,” said the Honourable Joe Hargrave, Minister Responsible for SGI. “We are proud to team with MADD Canada in this effort to educate and protect young people, and to prevent impaired driving.”

Impaired driving takes a disproportionate toll among young Canadians: traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among 16-25 year olds with approximately 55% of fatal crashes involving alcohol and/or drugs. Further, studies show that the use of alcohol and cannabis starts as early as age 11 and that use increases steadily between grades 7 and 9.

“By capturing the students’ attention, and engaging them with the interactive components, SmartWheels delivers the sober driving message in a creative way that will resonate with young people. It will equip them with the knowledge and tools to protect themselves from impaired driving, now and in the future,” said the Honourable Gene Makowsky, Minister Responsible for SLGA. “SLGA is very pleased to support this dynamic new education program.”

SmartWheels is already scheduled to deliver 96 presentations at 33 schools around the province between now and late October. Schools interested in booking for the presentation for their students can contact MADD Canada at 1-800-665-6233, ext. 225 or ctegelaar@madd.ca.

MADD Canada has offered an education program for elementary students for a number of years, but Smartwheels takes that effort to a unique new level that will engage young people as never before. It features videos about the effects of alcohol and cannabis on developing brains and bodies, and on driving abilities. Students use individual tablets to respond to multiple-choice questions about the material and participate in decision-making scenarios about impaired driving, with their responses to the questions determining the outcome of the stories. Virtual reality goggles simulate the look and feel of driving impaired. They also see the personal story of one young victim of impaired driving, who lost two of his best friends in a crash when the kids were all about 12-years-old.

The SmartWheels presentation was developed by educators with expertise in curriculum development at the elementary school level. A specially-trained MADD Canada representative guides the presentation and helps students through the process. All participating schools are provided with a comprehensive Educators’ Guide to facilitate pre and post presentation discussion about the material presented and the risks of alcohol and drug use.

SmartWheels complements the School Assembly Program, MADD Canada’s largest youth education program, which delivers education and awareness to hundreds of thousands of Canadian students in Grades 7 – 12 each year. SGI and SLGA are long-time supporters of that program. They directly sponsored a combined 85 presentations at Saskatchewan schools last year, bringing the sober driving message to thousands of students.

With these two programs, MADD Canada can now provide powerful and ongoing education about the risks and consequences of alcohol, drugs and impaired driving to Saskatchewan students from Grade 4 all the way through to Grade 12.

Saskatchewan is the second province in which MADD Canada has implemented the program. It is expected to visit more than 100 elementary schools and reach approximately 9,000 students over the coming school year.

For more information:

Dawn Regan, MADD Canada Chief Operating Officer, 905-330-7565 or dregan@madd.ca

Tyler McMurchy, SGI Media Relations, 306-751-1837 or tmcmurchy@sgi.sk.ca

David Morris, SLGA, 306-787-1721 or dmorris@slga.gov.sk.ca