Prom season is a killer for teens who drink and drive

Posted April 18, 2011, at 4:14 p.m.
Last modified April 18, 2011, at 8:21 p.m.

Wailing friends collapse at the burnished coffin of a teen as pallbearers slowly wheel it away. Two crashed cars sit nearby, bearing witness in pools of blood to the drunken driving accident that took his life.

The scene isn’t real. It was a simulation called “Cheat the Reaper: Live to See Your Future,” staged in the parking lot of Miami Beach Senior High School last year with help from students and adults desperate to end drinking and drugging during prom season.

The mock tragedy, like others at high schools around the country, will play out again this year in Miami Beach with help from Drug Free Youth in Town, one of many groups kicking into high gear as the “killing season” approaches.

The message? “We reiterate the fact — don’t let prom be your last dance,” said Adrian Lopez, director of community outreach for the nonprofit, which works with dozens of south Florida middle and high schools to deter underage drinking.

Prom season begins in mid-April and typically touches off spikes in alcohol-related traffic accidents involving young people. Year-round, the number of 15- to 20-year-old drivers who had blood alcohol concentrations of .01 or higher when involved in fatal crashes dropped 37 percent from 2000 to 2009, but alcohol-fueled road accidents remain the leading cause of death in that age range, according to national data.

Research from the insurance industry, The Partnership at Drugfree.org (formerly The Partnership for a Drug-Free America), and Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD, shows 70 percent of high school juniors and seniors expect their peers to drink and drive on prom night.

Countering peer pressure to drink — or perceived pressure — coupled with parent and child education, awareness, seat belt use and the fact that staying sober is actually perceived as cool by teens in many areas have all contributed to the overall decline, advocates said.

But prom season remains a fragile time, especially since it signals the start of “senior slump.” It’s the time of year when departing high schoolers start to feel liberated from school and home as they wind down from academics and the pressures of the college application mill and head into graduation and summer party mode.

At prom, schools rely on random breath alcohol testing, lockdowns of hotel and school venues (once you’re out, you’re out), bloody mock DUI scenes and even drug-sniffing dogs to ensure that dances and other chaperoned events are safe. But what about unsupervised after-parties that leave underage drinkers hung over and hotel rooms strewn with empty liquor bottles the next morning?

Lopez’s partner schools in the Drug Free Youth in Town effort mail postcards to parents urging them to do commonsense things like stay connected with their kids throughout prom night, know who they’re with, know how to contact other parents in the group and stay up until their kids get home.

But No. 6 on the card reads: “If you are hosting a prom after party, DO NOT SERVE ALCOHOL. It is illegal for adults to serve alcohol to minors.”

Some parents who remember drinking as a rite of passage at their own proms let their kids take hotel rooms unsupervised or believe it best to host after-parties at home and ignore what goes on, Lopez said, and they are precisely the people that he and other coalitions want to reach.

 

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