Horrors of drunk driving brought to life

By: Brad Smith, Gold Country News Service
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Last Wednesday, Rocklin High School students learned firsthand the dangerous consequences of drinking and driving, thanks to the Every 15 Minutes program. Cindy Cutts, college and career counselor at Rocklin High, put together the intense, emotional two-day event, along with the help of more than two dozen juniors, seniors and alumni. “Drinking and driving – especially among young people – is a problem,” Cutts said. “It’s something that people need to address and make a stand against.” The program, known as Every 15 Minutes, according to the Santa Rosa Police Department’s Web site, originated in Canada and the concept was later adopted by the Spokane, Wash., police department. In 1995, using a grant from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the Chico Police Department put on an Every 15 Minutes program, which proved to be successful with educators and law enforcement. The ABC received funding through a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety to allow the program to spread state wide. Since then, the program has gone nationwide. The name derives from old traffic collision statistics that one person died every 15 minutes due to drunk driving. However, by 1995, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that the number was down to one death every 30.4 minutes. Current NHTSA statistics indicate it is now a fatality every 45 minutes. According to the Every 15 Minutes Web site, the program begins with a student randomly selected from a class, sometimes by someone dressed as the Grim Reaper. Every 15 minutes, this is done. Some of the students, using theatrical makeup, are made up to look like the “walking dead.” Other students then take part in a mock two-vehicle traffic collision, playing the parts of survivors and victims of a crash caused by a drunk driver. Local law enforcement and fire/rescue agencies respond to the mock crash, as they would a real one. For dramatic effect, firefighters make use of the Jaws of Life. Cops perform a field sobriety test on the drunk driver, who is then arrested in full view of the students. “Dead” students, covered up, are picked up by local morticians. The “seriously injured” are transported by medevac helicopters. One student plays the part of the driving under the influence driver. Later on the first day, police officers and chaplains visit the parents, delivering the news of their children’s “deaths.” Cutts said that RHS has presented the program for more than a decade. “We do our program differently,” she said. For instance, the Grim Reaper was not used, since the students felt it was “too cartoonish.” While other programs select some students at random to participate, Cutts opted against that. “I wanted students who’d take this seriously and would work really hard on the program,” she said. Cutts said that before the end of the year, she started recruiting students. One of the students who applied – and later accepted – was Miles Smith. “The criteria was rigid,” Smith said. Academic standing, attendance, behavior and other factors were taken in to consideration. Out of 74 applicants, 27 were chosen. Once accepted, Smith and his fellow students started work on the project, with Cutts “merely observing.” She said watching the students work together was amazing. “They were like a force of natures, those kids. They jumped right in and took charge,” Cutts said. Students handled everything, from creating the scenario, writing the script and putting together the emotional videos that would be shown during the school assembly, taking place on the program’s second and final day, Cutts said. “They did all of it. And, they did it well,” she said. After staging the mock car crash, Smith, fellow victim Jacob Penney and the other students spent the rest of the day visiting graves of Rocklin citizens killed by drunk drivers, talked to representatives from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and RHS alumni — the latter talking about collegiate life and drinking, especially it’s consequences. Smith, Penney and the others spent the night at a local hotel, thinking about the day’s events, writing letters to their parents and getting ready for the next day’s assembly. Smith said that he spent the night, putting on final touches to the video. Fellow student Ana Flores, he said, did the lion’s share of work on the video. “What she did was incredible,” he said. “I was just glad to help her.” Like Smith, Penney said he signed onto the program because he knew some of his friends drank and drive. “I hope we get the message across that drinking and driving is dangerous,” he said. “People get hurt, people die. I hope we can make a difference.” While an American Journal of Health Studies, written in 2000, says that that the program may have a favorable short-term effect on students’ stated attitudes, but no effect on actual behavior, Penney said that if he and his fellow cast members get at least one student to think before drinking and driving, then their job is done. “It’s junior prom this weekend and senior ball next month,” he said. “If one of my friends decides not to drink or drive, then that’s good. Or, if they will drink, they have a designated driver or call for help – hey, that’s good too.” “We’re doing this to get other kids to think before they make the wrong choice,” Penney said. “I hope they make the right choices after this.”