With end of the school year activities and prom season upon us, keeping teenagers safe behind the wheel is a huge concern, not only for parents and public safety personnel, but for every driver sharing the road. Although there are countless programs available to parents and educators to help reinforce responsible driving among teenagers, few are as visceral and unforgettable as the Every 15 Minutes Program.
In an Every 15 Minutes event, students witness the harrowing effects of a deadly alcohol, drug, or distracted driving related car accident on their own community. After viewing a mock crash, complete with emergency medical response teams, students watch as ‘injured’ classmates are cut from the wreckage with the Jaws of Life, pronounced dead at the scene, or airlifted to local hospitals for trauma services. They witness as another classmate undergoes a field sobriety test, and is arrested, handcuffed, and taken into custody for driving under the influence. During the event, an EMS member dressed as the Grim Reaper wanders the crowd, reminding participants that death is never far from the scene of the crime. Local funeral homes send transport services to retrieve the ‘bodies’ of victims.
In another part of the Every 15 Minutes presentation, while students are gathered to discuss main points of the program, the Grim Reaper visits the classroom every fifteen minutes to remove one student. A police officer enters the room to read an obituary prepared by the student’s parents, explaining the circumstances of their classmate's demise and the contributions the student has made to the school and the community. The student wears pale makeup to simulate death, and is dressed in a black Every 15 Minutes t-shirt. They are then returned to class to wander silently through their day as the “living dead,” unable to interact or participate in the activities around them. Later, the “living dead” students attend an overnight retreat where, in one of the program’s most powerful exercises, they will write letters to their parents that begin, "Dear Mom and Dad, every fifteen minutes someone in the United States dies from an alcohol related traffic collision, and today I died. I never had the chance to tell you……." Parents then write their own return letters, which, along with those from students, will be shared with all of the program’s participants in an assembly the following day.
Response to the program is immediate and positive. Ken Fitzgerald, a retired Emergency Medical Technician who coordinates mock crashes and Every 15 Minutes events in North Carolina knows firsthand how the programs impact students’ lives for the better. He says, “I've had kids come up to me in Wal-Mart months after seeing the mock wreck and tell me, 'After seeing that, I will never drink and drive.' That makes it all worthwhile."
Every 15 Minutes is conducting over forty events for high schools all across the country this year. For more information about their programs and lessons, please visithttp://www.every15minutes.com.