A sad but important drama

Published 9:26 pm Thursday, May 26, 2011

The visual impact could hardly be ignored. As students at Nansemond River High School looked on, paramedics strapped several of their friends to stretchers, sending some away for treatment and one to the morgue. Another student was handcuffed by police and hauled away on charges of involuntary manslaughter.

Fortunately for everyone involved, the scene was just an enactment of what can happen when people who are drunk get behind the wheel. There were no actual injuries, everyone lived and nobody went to jail. But parents, school faculty, emergency services workers and other members of the community fervently hope that the impression on those students who watched the drama unfold on a field next to the high school on Wednesday will be real and lasting.

With the school’s prom scheduled for next week, the timing was right for a sober driving message. Between after-dance parties and beach weekends, prom weekend presents a strong temptation for teens to drink and drive. In the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 12.8 percent of all fatal traffic crashes in 2001 were alcohol-related, and 40 percent of that number involved teens driving while drinking alcohol.

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On the one hand, the good news is that teen drunk-driving crashes and fatalities are both down markedly since 1982. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 3,000 fewer teen drunk-driving fatalities in 2009 than in 1982. And prom-season drunk-driving fatalities have fallen from 626 in 1982 to 187 in 2009.

On the other hand, if one of those 187 dead teens is your son or your daughter, your brother or your sister, your student or your classmate, the improving statistics are likely to seem a bit less comforting.

That’s why it’s so important that organizations such as Suffolk Fire & Rescue continue to educate teens on the dangers involved in drunk driving. Much progress has been made during the past 30 years to reduce the number of lives cut short by impaired drivers. That progress owes something to educational campaigns such as the one that took place at Nansemond River on Wednesday.

We hope similar programs will become a part of every school’s curriculum in the years to come. Far better to have students witness a mock death than to have to attend the real funeral of a friend who died because of a drunk-driving teen.