September 20, 2023, Durham, NC – Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of preventable death for both children and adults, and many of these crashes are caused by drug- and alcohol-impaired driving. Despite the dangers associated with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, recent data has shown that only a small portion of self-reported impaired drivers are identified by law enforcement as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Providing standardized training to law enforcement officers to help them build or refine their skills and confidence in detecting impaired drivers, particularly those impaired by drugs other than alcohol, is a step forward in protecting the safety of all drivers on the road. Most law enforcement officers learn about the signs and symptoms of alcohol impairment in the academy setting. While more advanced training in the field of drug impairment is offered nationwide, officers are not afforded the opportunity to practice the tests and skills learned on a live drug-impaired subject, and officers have reported a pressing need for immersive training to learn and practice these skills.

To address this area of need, iRT received a contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop a plan for creating an interactive virtual reality (VR) training for law enforcement officers to assess and practice identifying drivers who may be under the influence of different categories of drugs. In the training, law enforcement officers will interact with virtual drivers and conduct virtual Standard Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) as well as other tests taught in the ARIDE curriculum to practice determining signs of drug impairment. The VR training simulation will be designed to supplement existing training experiences for officers and can also be used as an on-demand refresher course for more experienced officers.

The use of interactive VR was chosen as the modality for this training because research has shown that VR learning experiences have more positive impacts on learning outcomes and can be more effective at teaching skills than in-person role-playing activities. Dr. Zhenan Feng and colleagues showed in 2018 that VR was particularly effective for skills acquisition learning tasks such as rehearsing behaviors needed in an emergency situation. In addition, VR-based learning activities allow learners to practice skills without having to experience the adverse social consequences that are sometimes present during in-person role-playing exercises. The proposed training simulation will utilize VR technology to provide officers with opportunities to experiment and practice their skills in detecting and arresting impaired drivers in a simulated realistic VR environment.

Project leaders Dr. Allison Schmidt (Principal Investigator) and Dr. Rebecca Stelter bring a wealth of experience in developing and evaluating substance use prevention and safe driving promotion programs, including previous experience developing VR-based safe driving training scenarios. They have a long-standing relationship with a leading VR production company, Horizon Productions, who will consult on the development of the plan to develop high quality simulated VR experiences for the officer training. This project will be supported by expert consultant Officer Stephen Greenlee, a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) and experienced trainer of impaired driving detection for diverse law enforcement audiences. The product will also be informed by feedback gathered from a panel of subject matter expert officers and trainers from across the country. Drs. Schmidt and Stelter recently collaborated with Mr. Greenlee and Horizon Productions on the development of interactive VR scenarios for Plan My Ride, iRT’s online skills-based safe driving program for young drivers to prevent impaired and distracted driving.

With previous experience developing safe driving programs for traffic safety organizations, community coalitions, schools, and more, iRT is excited to extend its work to provide impaired driving training resources to law enforcement agencies. Drs. Schmidt and Stelter will work closely with law enforcement officers during the development of the training simulation to ensure that the training program best meets the needs of law enforcement agencies.

iRT looks forward to expanding its suite of safe driving products, which includes Plan My Ride, Strategic Skills for the Prevention of Drugged Driving, and Drugged Driving Essentials. To learn more about iRT’s safe driving research, expertise, and programs for adolescents, adults, and prevention professionals, please visit our website.


Feng, Z., González, V. A., Amor, R., Lovreglio, R., & Cabrera-Guerrero, G. (2018). Immersive virtual reality serious games for evacuation training and research: A systematic literature review. Computers & Education, 127, 252-266.