As winter’s chill gives way to spring’s warm and sunny days, it’s easy for students to find their minds wandering from final exams to prom and graduation night. For those completing their senior year of education, the latter traditionally represent the last big social events of high school — nights of celebration with peers creating memories that will last a lifetime. But, sadly, all-too-often tragedy strikes when some students see these events as an opportunity to take unnecessary risks in the misguided attempt to have a good time.
A study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that there are more fatal motor vehicle accidents involving teenagers in the months of May through July — the prime months for proms and graduation parties — than any other time during the rest of the year.
A startling reminder of the hidden dangers at what should be a fun memory for students happened in Ohio in 2018: four teens were rushing to get to prom-night dinner; the teen driving the vehicle was reportedly driving at a high rate of speed and crashed, resulting in the tragic death of one of the girls. At the sentencing for the 17-year-old driver, a parent testified that, “What started out to be a very memorable event for prom will always live with her [the driver] forever.”
Sadly, speeding is just one of the activities that kills our students during the springtime. Underage drinking and — sometimes fatal — drug use is not uncommon among students, especially amid this time of celebration at the end of the school year.
So what are parents and adults supposed to do? At Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), we lead the nation’s efforts to empower our teens not to be poorly influenced by other students; rather, we equip students with the tools they need to be a positive influencer in their group of friends. Hundreds of thousands of teens across the country are given free training and information from SADD to make them aware of both the need to be advocates to other students for healthy choices and the ability to be wise decision makers.
I’m very proud of the work we do at SADD, but I also know that we can’t do it alone. Educators and parents need to be part of the solution. Schools can step up by providing a mentor and a classroom (in-person or virtually) where SADD can hold meetings. Let students put up our posters underscoring the dangers of impaired driving and put it in the school announcements. Make safety on prom night and graduation night a critical part of the buildup to the events.
Parents need to be part of this movement, too. While sharing in the excitement of these wonderful spring festivities, parents also need to remind their children of the dangers. Speeding, impaired driving, distracted driving and drowsy driving should never ever be part of any event.
We probably don’t have to look too far to find examples of tragedy in our hometowns. In my family, my wife’s niece was killed in a one-car accident while in high school. Speeding was suspected of being a significant factor.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data from 2018 shows that car accidents killed 2,500 teenagers and an additional 285,000 teens had to be treated in an emergency department. That means seven teens died every day and almost 800 were transported to a hospital due to car accidents — a shocking statistic that we all must work to reduce.
At SADD, we believe technology can, and should, be part of the solution to improving road safety and saving lives. We are proud to partner with Waymo through the public education campaign Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving to help educate youth and parents about the potential life-saving benefits of this technology.
“Safety is at the core of everything we do at Waymo, where we’re building the world’s most experienced driver,” said Waymo’s Chief Safety Officer, Mauricio Peña. “Public education is absolutely key to preventing the thousands of teenagers’ lives taken too soon on our roads every year, and we’re proud to work with SADD to encourage the next generation of road users to make better decisions so they can safely get where they’re meant to be today, tomorrow and in the future.”
Don’t let these final moments of high school be the final memories of our teens. As the weather warms up and the celebrations of the season begin, let’s make a point of showing our students that speeding and substance use shouldn’t be a part of the fun.
Jim Carroll is a Senior Advisor to Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and the former Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Visit sadd.org for more info.