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SKHS students get a sobering message
The scene of a tragic accident involving underage drinking and driving was designed to shock students into making good decisions about being safe on prom and graduation night.
On June 1, South Kitsap High School students, in collaboration with local law enforcement agencies and emergency medical services, brought to life the reality of underage drinking and driving.
Each year prom and graduation season begins with promise and enthusiasm only to end in tragedy for hundreds of teen drivers and passengers nationwide.
According to a national survey of more than 2,500 11th and 12th graders, 90 percent of teens believe their peers are more likely to drink and drive on prom night and 79 percent believe the same is true for graduation night.
There were 380 teen alcohol-related traffic deaths during prom and graduation season (April, May and June) in 2007, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Traffic Safety reports 1,009 total teen fatalities in motor vehicle crashes during those same months in 2008.
“The event is a reminder to teen drivers about the dangers of drunk/drugged driving as well as the new emphasis on texting and cell phone use while driving,” said Port Orchard Police Chief Al Townsend. “To grasp the full affect, we stage wrecked vehicles and have student actors participate in the collision with their friends.
“We play out the entire incident,” he said, “making it as lifelike as possible — exactly as it would happen in reality so that teens can see what would happen.
“In years past,” Townsend said, “this has become a very emotional event and we hope it has some impact on those young drivers, hopefully to make good decisions about when they should drive, and when they shouldn’t. Hopefully it also teaches them to make good decisions on driving behavior and when to get into a car with others.”
“The agencies are involved in this drill are South Kitsap Fire and Rescue, Bethel Towing, the Port Orchard Police Department, the SKHS Acting Ensemble, the Kitsap County Coroner’s Office and Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office,” said SKSD Battalion Chief Mike Wernet. “Typically, our crash focuses on underage drinking and driving and making smart decisions.
“This year,” he said, “smart decisions aren’t just about abstaining from drinking and driving. They also include speeding, talking on cell phones, texting, adjusting your Ipod — anything that distracts you from keeping your eyes on the road and being safe.
“We also want teens to make good decisions whether they’re driving or riding with someone else,” Wernet said. “We want them to ask the question, ‘Is it safe for me to ride in the car with them?’
“Teenagers are encouraged,” he saaid, “no matter if they think they will get into trouble or not, that if they need a ride to contact their parents. Trust me, a parent would rather pick their child up because they needed a ride at 2 a.m. than to have to identify them at the Coroner’s Office.”
According to Wernet, in the summer of 1997 five kids died in traffic collisions, four of which were from South Kitsap.
“We started doing this in 1997 because of those kids,” said Wernet. “It’s pretty interesting the response we get, and we’re honored to do this for the students every year.
“You get 500 kids out there watching this and they are stone silent,” he said. “It’s 100 percent positive. Even though these are actors that are playing a part, when a parent sees there kid being zipped up in a body bag, I don’t care who you are and even if its just a skit, it is extremely emotional.”