Teen Talk

Every 15 Minutes delivers sobering message about teen drunken driving

Kelly Richardson
Kelly Richardson Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

DEAR TEENAGE READERS: The skit’s scenario: My oldest son, a high school senior, was involved in a very serious car crash last week. Two girls in his car were killed. They were good kids leaving school to go grab food when they were hit by a car driven by a teenager who had partied so much the night before that he was still drunk. He should have never been behind the wheel, but he thought he was OK and didn’t want to be late for school.

Last week, Folsom High School participated in Every 15 Minutes, a two-day program focusing on high school juniors and seniors, which challenges them to think about drinking, driving, personal safety and the responsibility of making mature decisions. Along with alcohol-related crashes, it focuses on the effect that their decisions would have on family and friends.

Life’s lessons are best learned through experience. Unfortunately, when the target audience is teens and the topic is drinking while driving, experience is not the teacher of choice. Every 15 Minutes offers a real-life experience without the real-life risk. Though the scene is not real, the emotions are.

On the second day, we attended the “funeral” for students who “died.” They were called the Living Dead. Parents cried, students cried and the message was clear: Drinking and driving ruins lives. My son spoke and read a goodbye letter he wrote to us, his parents. I’m not sure I have ever cried harder.

Kids aren’t supposed to die before their parents. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their kids. Again, not an actual funeral, but every teenager is one bad choice away from this situation becoming all too real. No parent should ever have to lose their child, even worse to a situation that is completely preventable.

Drunken driving is a selfish act, and dying because of alcohol is a senseless loss.

Here were some facts they shared with us: Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers, and one-third of teenage accidents involve alcohol. Every day 27 people are injured or killed because of a drunken driver. Teenage drivers are three times more likely than experienced drivers to be in a fatal crash.

Driving is not a right, it is a privilege. It’s not something to be taken lightly. Your car can be a means for transportation, or it can be a 2-ton weapon used to harm someone. Being buzzed is the same thing as being drunk – don’t fool yourself. They used the phrase: “Think before you drink.”

Every party starts out fun. Good times, loud music, laughing and goofing around. Teenagers like to have fun, and alcohol seems to find itself at many teenage parties. Once you include alcohol at a party with teenagers, the stakes are raised. The risks are higher. The chances of someone being injured increase. Suddenly a night of fun becomes a game of Russian roulette. You can only dodge a bullet so many times before someone is going to be seriously hurt or killed.

But it goes beyond your getting behind the wheel and driving. It extends to your not riding with someone who has been drinking or allowing your friends to drive after they have been drinking. It’s not easy to tell a drunk person not to drive. Most people are indignant and angry when you take their keys away.

It takes courage to stand up and do what is right, even if it is not the popular thing to do or the person is upset with you. Telling your friend to hand over the keys may feel a little awkward, but it’s way less awkward than explaining to his grieving parents why you let him drive away after drinking.

Tom Graston, one of our guest speakers, shared the tragic but true story of his nephew Matt, who was killed in 2011 riding in a car with a drunken driver. The even sadder part is that Matt was smart enough to know that he shouldn’t drive, so he sought a friend who assured him he had only “nursed a beer” all night. Matt trusted him and got in the car.

Two hours after the accident that took Matt’s life, the driver was arrested after he blew a .15 into a Breathalyzer, almost twice the legal limit. Tom’s words stuck: It’s not just about you not drinking and driving; it’s about being careful of who you trust to get you home safely.

One thing that resonated with me was it isn’t just the lives and families of those who died who were affected. The car with the students who had partied the night before were good kids from good families, but they made a huge mistake. If this situation had been real, their lives would never be the same. Never. They would have to live with the fact that because they made a momentarily bad decision to drive when they were still intoxicated from the previous night, they killed their friends. One night of fun can create a lifetime of heartache and pain. The ripple effect of one person’s decision is daunting.

So I ask you: Is this a chance you are willing to take? Are you willing to lug around the idea that you are responsible for ending someone’s life because you whooped it up at a buddy’s house and don’t want to be late for curfew, so you jumped behind the wheel to drive home? Are you willing to let go of your dreams, hopes and goals for the future because you trusted the wrong person to get you home safely? Are you willing to bury your friend because you weren’t willing to speak up or take their keys away? Are you willing to become another statistic?

Talk to your parents and come up with a game plan. Put Uber or Lyft on your phone. If you choose to drink because someone offers to be your designated driver, make sure it is someone who takes that job very seriously. Be willing to call your parents if they are the safest way for you to get home. Better yet, don’t drink. Learn to have fun without alcohol. Make smart decisions. Don’t let fate or chance determine your life.

One of the most beautiful things during the program was seeing the local police department, fire department, CHP, school administration and the media all working together to create this experience for students. Why do they do it? Because they care about your life and your future. Because you matter. Because your choices matter. Because they hope that if just one life is spared, everything was worth it.