Life through a distorted lens

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Anyone who likes a tipple from time to time will know the expression ‘beer goggles’.

If someone tells you that you must have had them on the previous evening when you had a few too many, you’ll know the dreadful feeling of embarrassment which follows this particular phrase.

It usually refers to people snogging someone deemed less attractive when inebriated and, to be honest, I’ve had them on a few times. I’m also pretty sure anyone who has kissed me has been accused of owning a pair, even if they’ve been sober.

There is, however, a much more serious pair of beer goggles out there.

They are being used by emergency services to highlight the dangers of drink-driving and putting these ones on is a whole different experience ... and much less fun.

These goggles are a tool to help Central Scotland Fire and Rescue Service show people what your eyesight could be like if you’re drunk to prevent people from getting behind the wheel after drinking.

And to be perfectly frank it’s a very scary thought to think people drive when their sight is as impaired as when you’re looking through these beer goggles.

I went along to Falkirk Fire Station where manager Nicky Barr talked me through how they worked and how they are helping in the ongoing fight against drink drivers.

The goggles are large with a distorted visor that totally disorientates you to the point of being nauseous.

They are very cloudy and you see double while you feel like your head is moving involuntarily.

When you walk it’s impossible to do so in a straight line and people and objects seem further away than they actually are as I found out when I bumped into both Mr Barr and our photographer on more than one occasion.

Basically, it’s like being very drunk while being sober enough to realise you shouldn’t do anything other than get a taxi home.

I was also given a remote control car to drive around which was easy enough without the goggles, but once on it was like a smaller version of Demolition Derby.

After this experience I can’t believe anyone can be so foolish to drink and drive. If I did it in the same condition as I was with the beer goggles on I’ve no doubt I would have killed myself or, worse still, someone else. It’s a genuinely disturbing thought to think people drive like this.

Mr Barr (48), a veteran firefighter of 25 years, says attending crash scenes to cut people out of wreckages is almost a daily occurrence for him and his team these days, and that many times alcohol is a factor in many incidents.

Throughout his career as a fire fighter Mr Barr has seen some horrific sights and, like a lot of people, knows the consequences of drink driving.

“I know a local man who killed someone while drink driving and was convicted,” said Mr Barr. “He had a family and a good job and everything but he’s got nothing now. He’s a totally changed man and not for the better.”

This is one reason the fire service is targeting younger people.

Mr Barr added: “The goggles allow us to engage with young people. They try out the car without the goggles and then with them on and they see how bad it can be.

“We’re especially keen to get the message across to 17-26 year olds and we did a demonstration at Forth Valley College recently. Hopefully the message gets through.

“At this time of year drink driving is more common and we’d urge people not to do it. The message is being aimed at passengers as well. Don’t get in a car with a drink driver.

“If you are drinking make sure you book a taxi or get a lift sorted and don’t risk being caught the next day either. This is happening to more and more people.”

The vision impairment goggles are designed to simulate the effects of reduced alertness, slowed reaction time, confusion, visual distortion, alteration of depth and distance perception, reduction of peripheral vision, poor judgment and decision making, double vision and lack of muscular coordination.

They are now used in 57 countries in drunk-driving prevention and awareness programmes.

Central Scotland Fire and Rescue group manager Gordon Pryde said: “Every year people die on the roads as a result of drink driving. Alcohol will affect your ability to drive putting not only your life at risk but that of your passengers and other road users.”