The event, which has been presented every other year at Patterson High School for more than a decade, appears to hit home for many students, presenting them with tough realities at a period in life when they often feel invulnerable.
The faux drunken-driving crash — and, perhaps more importantly, the next day’s emotional reading of letters from “dead” students to their parents — seeks to drive home the dangers of getting behind the wheel when intoxicated.
Such efforts may be having their intended effect. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2010 indicate a person dies from an drunken driving crash every 51 minutes. While that’s far too often, representing more than 10,000 lives lost each year, it is evidence that the rate of drunken-driving crashes has declined since the rate was 30 minutes when the Every 15 Minutes campaign began in the mid-1990s. (The “15 minutes” figure refers to the number of people killed in crashes in which any amount of alcohol was consumed, and not merely accidents in which the driver consumed enough alcohol to be considered under the influence.)
There may be no proven correlation between the program and those safety figures, but people who are involved say that if only one life is saved, it’s all worthwhile.
Certainly, this is a relevant issue in Patterson, as this community has seen its share of teenagers die in alcohol-fueled crashes throughout the years.
Future educational efforts could also focus on distracted driving. Crashes caused by distraction appear to be rising — more than 5,000 in 2009, according to the NHTSA — with the advent of texting on cell phones contributing to those figures.
In the meantime, kudos should go to volunteer fire captain Eddie Thompson of the Patterson Fire Department and all the law enforcement agents and video crews involved in Every 15 minutes.
Most of the volunteers already are in the business of keeping others from harm by virtue of their careers. By participating in the simulation, they are likely saving more lives as they educate students about the serious nature of the choices they make when they get behind the wheel.