No laughing matter

Wednesday, May 1, 2013 - 19:00

It was a horrific scene.

Behind Eagle River High on April 24, two vehicles had collided. Bloody bodies were strewn about the wreckage. As one student lay dying, another was being questioned by a police officer about her involvement in the crash. Emergency personnel rushed to and fro, doing what they could for the injured.

Fortunately, it was all a show, part of the annual “Every 15 Minutes” program that’s used each year as a grim reminder to students about the dangers of driving while impaired. The idea behind the program is to scare kids straight by showing them an approximation of the devastation that drunk driving can bring.

It’s a message that can’t be reinforced enough to young people, many of whom often feel like they’re invincible or impervious to the very real dangers of driving intoxicated.

Unfortunately for the parents, volunteer students and emergency responders who put on the event, it’s not a message that’s going to get through to everyone.

During the presentation, many of the assembled student body watching the action paid close attention and seemed genuinely moved by the scene. But not everyone. Many of the students joked, laughed and otherwise did their best to act as cool as possible. It’s an understandable reaction. After all, kids will be kids.

But what may have seemed like innocent joking is a symptom of a much larger issue. When the Star spoke with one senior who attended the event, she was more than honest about her peers’ attitudes toward driving drunk. Many of them do it, she said. It goes on every weekend.

This wasn’t shocking to hear, but it was frightening.

For the parent volunteers who participated in the event, things were a lot more serious. Cheryl and Charley Peyton — whose daughter, Sarah, played the role of a deceased student — said the event was no joke. Mrs. Peyton said she had a difficult time pulling the sheet back from her daughter’s face during the simulation, and the tears she cried were very, very real.

The difference in attitudes has a lot to do with experience. Most adults have lived long enough to see firsthand the consequences of driving drunk. They’ve seen friends or relatives who’ve been injured, killed or jailed. They’ve witnessed the heartbreak drunk driving causes and know just how frightening it can be to hear the phone ring at 3 a.m.

Kids, on the other hand, haven’t seen much. Many of them have only recently begun to drive, an experience that’s more exciting than frightening for a group of people who often see themselves as indestructible.

But they’re not. According to the CDC, 2,700 teens age 16-19 were killed in auto accidents last year. And of that figure, about 22 percent were alcohol-related. Even more frightening is the fact that a recent survey found nearly a quarter of all teens reported riding with an impaired driver — in the past month alone.

The idea behind “Every 15 Minutes” wasn’t just to scare kids straight. It was to try to open their eyes to the consequences of driving with someone who’s been drinking. Hopefully, it worked for some of the students who watched the presentation.

For those who thought the simulation was a joke, we ask that you please reconsider your attitude toward drunk driving. You’re not indestructible, and it’s not cool to pretend like drunk driving is no big deal.

Your life depends on it.

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