Last spring, a “Healthy Kids Survey” was given to Piedmont and Millennium high school students. Shockingly, students self-reported that 48 percent of juniors had driven a car after they had been drinking or had been in a car driven by a friend who’d been drinking.
Hoping to reverse the trends revealed in that survey, the California Highway Patrol travels to schools like Piedmont’s to deliver powerful “Every 15 Minutes” presentations. The presentations involve a live staging of a deadly drunk driving crash, a memorial at the school the next day and a video presentation and panel discussion a couple weeks later. According to the program’s website, the goal is to emotionally connect drunk driving with negative consequences, to go past “the intellectual statistics” with which teens have been bombarded.
On October 3 of this year, real police and firefighters responded to the mock crash, which featured a drunk teenage driver and his two passengers and another teenager driver carrying one passenger. In the simulation, the drunk driver and one of his friends was unharmed, but the second passenger was killed when he flew through the windshield. The other car’s drivers are seriously injured but survive.
The next day, the entire school gathered for a mock memorial service intended to drive home the seriousness of the previous evening’s demonstration. The students were also informed that the drunk driver has been sentenced to 26 years in prison.
Importantly, the California Highway Patrol’s program doesn’t stop there, and capitalizes on the chance to bring students and parents together to talk about the realities of teen drinking and driving habits. The Piedmont panel was a lively exchange in which students told parents that they would feel more comfortable calling them for rides home if they felt they wouldn’t get in trouble. Parents said they felt uneasy about condoning drinking in their house or at any other time.
That reality puts parents in a tough position. They want to stop kids from drinking all together, but don’t want teens to be afraid to call for help when they need it. How do you prevent illegal drinking and encourage openness about it at the same time? Part of the program’s goal is the open those lines of discussion, to better establish expectations and consequences.
Unfortunately, the powerful program can only be performed in Piedmont once every four years, the minimum amount necessary to ensure that all students have a chance to experience it. According to Millennium principal Ting Hsu Engelman “It’s a tremendous amount of work, it’s a tremendous amount of resources.” Indeed, a grant is necessary for each school wishing to use the program.
Though the program seems well-designed, there is little evidence available to confirm its effectiveness. Let’s hope that the students at Piedmont and Millennium high schools took the message to heart.
Photo Credit: Kim Woods