04/26/04 — Promoting sobriety

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Promoting sobriety

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 26, 2004 1:59 PM

Every 15 minutes in this country, someone is either seriously injured or killed by an accident that involves alcohol.

Because high school proms, spring break and graduation have the potential to be connected to those statistics, the N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement Division has geared some of its programs to high school juniors and seniors. Assemblies and demonstrations are scheduled to coincide with the spring events.

"Basically, we're shooting straight from the hip," said ALE agent Clay Joyner.

"We're not talking about how great high school is and how wonderful childhood is. We're not talking about how pleasant the prom will be; we're talking about how bad it is when you make bad decisions."

The "Keys to Life" program is nearly three years old and is made possible by a grant from the state's highway safety program.

Earlier in the month, the program was offered at Rosewood High School before its prom. Proms for Spring Creek and Southern Wayne high schools are scheduled for this weekend, and assemblies were conducted at each school on Friday.

Typically, three students are pre-selected to participate in the assembly. As the program begins, the sounds of an automobile crash can be heard throughout the gymnasium. Rescue personnel are dispatched and a student in the audience walks out of the building.

As that student's obituary is read by the school security officer, the student returns in white face-paint and sits silently for the duration of the assembly.

To illustrate the statistic, 15 minutes later, it happens again.

David Williams, an ALE agent stationed in New Bern, tells the audience about the importance of bad decisions and grave results.

"Don't make a bad decision," he says. "Lead by example.

"When you get to the point where you have to make these decisions, think about it. If something happens to you, you're going to have a lot of people that miss you."

Another component of the program is "Drunk Busters on Wheels," putting students behind the wheel of a golf cart with the challenge of maneuvering through an obstacle course of traffic cones. The exercise is complicated by having to wear specially designed "impairment goggles" that alter the vision and depth perception, mimicking the symptoms of alcohol intoxication.

It simulates having .08 percent blood alcohol content, the legal limit.

"Obviously your limit is zero," Williams told the students, noting their age. "You can't have any alcohol in your system."

The student is first allowed to drive the course without the goggles to see the difference in abilities when under the influence of alcohol.

"We tell them that this is just messing with your sight," Joyner said. "If you can, imagine what it is doing to your sight, and it's also going to diminish your other senses when you're driving."

Joyner said response from parents and teachers has been favorable. He said the program has the potential to make a tremendous difference in driving home some important points to students.

"We try to bring it home and personalize it at every school," he said. "We feel it's probably the best we can do at this time."