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Avoid Drunk Driving on Prom Night

How To Encourage Your Teen To Make The Right Choices on Prom Night

Alcohol-related crashes kill more people ages 16 to 20 than any other age group. Nearly half of all fatal car accidents involve alcohol, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). When prom season rolls around, parents and school officials look for ways to drive home the idea that alcohol and cars don't mix.

Teenagers, parents and teachers know the enemy. Whether they call it "Prom Safe Ride Home," "Prom Promise" or "Lock-In," it all adds up to the same thing: banding together to eliminate drunk driving. And the numbers show that it may be working. The NHTSA says that fatalities are dropping slowly – but they still have a long way to fall.

What's turning the tide?

Prom Safe Ride Home

At Lake Washington High School in Seattle, Wash., parents and community volunteers meet at Overlake Hospital and wait for the calls to come in on prom night. Calling before 2 a.m. ensures a safe, free, non-judgmental ride home for teenagers in at-risk situations. This program is so successful for the community that organizers now provide it for all major school functions.

Not every kid reaches for the phone when a friend has the keys and is too intoxicated to drive. Groups like M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and S.A.D.D. (Students Against Drunk Driving) go to schools to teach kids how to stay out of situations over which they have no control. Members give kids information and support to make the right choices when it comes to drinking and driving.

Lock-in

By far the most popular program across the country is the post-prom party that lasts all night. At North Little Rock High School (NLRHS) in North Little Rock, Ark., students pay $5 each for the post-prom party, which includes a T-shirt, all the food and drinks (non-alcoholic) they want and "play" money to buy prizes until dawn.

Linda Harper, guidance secretary at NLRHS, estimates that three-quarters of the seniors go to the post-prom party. "No one may leave and come back in," she says. "It's a firm rule." The prizes at the end of the evening encourage everyone to stay for the whole party. The big prize is $500 cash, and one year they offered 20 cash prizes of $100 each. Organizers also draw names for microwaves, dorm refrigerators, televisions and stereos – things kids heading off to college always need. "Every year it gets bigger and better," Harper says. "The students love it!"

After the all-night bash, parents invite the kids at NLRHS into their homes for a big breakfast. Because so many students participate, they influence each other and more get involved each year.

Paramount Canada's Wonderland

Heather Bushwald graduated from Burford District High School in Ontario with great memories of an entire night spent at an amusement park. "We [student council] wanted to do something really different, and when Canada's Wonderland started this program, we knew it was the one for us," she says.

Bushwald's high school is one of many that choose an alternative to the glitz and glamour of a formal prom. The night is open to all schools in Ontario. All kids must arrive and leave the park by bus. Check in time is 6 p.m., departure time is 5 a.m., and the park gates are locked at night.

The park is closed to the public, and many companies set up booths giving freebies to the kids. Karaoke, a live band and all-night rides add to the fun and excitement. The flat-rate entry fee supplies kids with food coupons to last the night.

The fact that organizers searched bags before entry didn't bother most kids. "It made us feel safe knowing that no one could smuggle drugs or alcohol into the park," Bushwald says. One classmate had prescription sleeping pills in her purse, and they were confiscated. "It's no different than going to a concert," she says. "You just don't bring that kind of stuff."

Staging a Mock Crash

Students at Glen Rock High School in Glen Rock, N.J., feel their mock demonstrations are successful with their peers. It's real education before the big night.

A week before the prom, the staged accident involves a smashed car and students looking hurt or dead. Paramedics arrive and start cleaning up the bodies as students look on. Rescue workers bring out the body bags, and the reality of drinking and driving is instantly realized. Some kids scoff, believing it could never happen to them. But many take it seriously.

Catherine Nauccme's kids thought the whole thing was hokey at first. "They heard the words of the drink and drive campaign, sloughed it off as 'corny' but the visual, thankfully, stayed with them," she says. It's just not cool to be bleeding on the hood of a crashed car.

Up to Mom and Dad

In areas where there is no organized effort to deter drinking and driving on prom night, parents may be required to tackle the issue themselves.

Barbara Mullins of North Little Rock, Ark., says her daughter's school does nothing she's aware of about the issue of drinking and driving. Mullins isn't worried about her daughter as much as she's worried about the other kids who may be drinking and driving. "We've invited her boyfriend [who lives across the state] to come for the weekend, and I'll drive them or they'll go with other kids in a rented limo," she says. Mullins hopes there won't be drinking, but fears there may be, so she involves herself and makes sure her daughter knows she is there for her.

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