Before this school year was over, the Ceres Unified School District, California Highway Patrol, Ceres Department of Public Safety, Doctors Medical Center, the Stanislaus County Coroner's Office, American Medical Response, Air Methods, local businesses like 5.11 Tactical, Ceres Pro Tow, and a team of dedicated community volunteers held a successful Every 15 Minutes program for students of Ceres High School.
The program is called Every 15 Minutes because when it began, someone died as a result of a DUI-related incident every 15 minutes in this country. This powerful program is aimed at high school juniors and seniors with the objective of driving home the point that mixing driving with alcohol and/or other intoxicants greatly increases their chances for death, crippling injuries and serious legal problems. It emphasizes how a few moments of euphoria and fun can instantly become a tragedy with lifelong implications for the intoxicated driver, their passengers, other motorists, and their family and friends.
Intellectually, everyone acknowledges the hazards of intoxicated driving, but time and experience have proven that this kind of knowledge is insufficient. A startling 28 percent of young people between the ages of 15-20 killed in vehicle collisions were intoxicated, which more than justifies the extraordinary efforts directed towards saving them from such harm.
Lectures from adults and other role models seem to have little impact on the average teenager, as most, like many adults, believe it will never happen to them.
The Every 15 Minutes program is structured in a way to leave a lasting psychological impact from live DUI traffic collision scenarios that are very realistic. The collision scenes feature victims, wrecked vehicles, simulated arrests, medical and police responses, hospital care, coroner participation and the full range of emotions that typically accompany DUI crashes and deaths/injuries.
I have witnessed these enactments numerous times, and each time, they leave in indelible mark on my mind. Any observer of an Every 15 Minute program is bound to go through the range of emotions that come close to what are experienced at real-life collisions where there are injured and dead teenagers, and where an intoxicant, such as alcohol has been a factor in the event.
The Every 15 Minute Program is a two-day series that essentially immerses the participants in the events. Parents are involved, there is role-playing that simulates what parents, their children and friends go through when a loved one is killed or when a loved one is the cause of another student's DUI-related death.
People with real life experience of having lost a teen or other family member to a DUI collision share their personal testimony of what they went through and how it has affected their lives over the years. It is all very emotional and real.
There is no quantifiable data to prove that the Every 15 Minutes program has lasting effects on its participants, but DUI death statistics are improving. According to 2009 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, one person will die every 50 minutes in drunk-driving crashes this year. It is not a message of death, despite its graphic nature and psychologically gripping effects on participants and observers. It is a message of life; it emphasizes relationships, responsibility, caring for one another and respecting others.
Art De Werk is the Chief of Public Safety in Ceres