Wheels for the Wasted

Chronicle Staff

By Allegra Tepper

A fine of up to $1,300; probation for up to five years; up to six months in prison; these are among the consequences of an arrest made in California for Driving Under the Influence, but these don’t even compare to the worst consequence of all. Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds, and 31 percent of those fatalities in 2008 were due to DUIs. These statistics are often spewed out at students, but I fear the gravity of this harsh reality doesn’t hit home based on a few sets of numbers and penalties that seem unlikely to befall one of our own.

In truth, each time that a sophomore emerges from the Department of Motor Vehicles, beaming as they display that new gilded badge of independence, they’re also holding one of the greater responsibilities they’ve faced. Driving is not something to be taken lightly, and yet we so often lose sight of that when caught up in keychains and mix CDs and carpool Jamba Juice runs. When our community lost Julia Siegler to that fatal accident, I realized that it could have just as easily been me who was rushing off to school that morning. While I am not quick to give up my steering wheel of freedom, I did slow down and consider how safe we are as new drivers on the road. One of the first things that comes to mind is driving under the influence.

Calabasas High School holds a yearly program where 10 students are selected to play the roles of teens lost in fatal drunk driving accidents. Their classmates participate in simulated memorial services, even write eulogies to understand the impact of a single reckless moment behind the wheel. Programs like these are what hit home; giving a student the sensation of losing their classmate or their teammate, not numbers that flow in one ear and out the other. Others have developed Designated Drivers clubs, amnesty programs in which students who are of age volunteer certain weekend nights to be on call for their classmates who might not have another alternative to driving themselves while intoxicated. This would provide another preventative measure for the accidents that can so easily take place on higher risk nights like Semiformal and Prom. If the incentive of keeping peers safe isn’t enough, this program could be a major campaign for the Community Council to encourage students to serve the community and one another. When I mentioned my idea to some of my friends, the unanimous response was that the administration would be apprehensive about acknowledging that their students drive under the influence. The fact is, teenagers have been bending the rules since the beginning of time. What’s important is to keep them safe, and if we’re willing to supply students with condoms and sex education, I can’t see why designated drivers wouldn’t be just as important.