OUR VIEW: Be smart this prom season; don’t drive drunk

The joyous season of high school proms and graduations in Louisiana is upon us. Dressing up in long gowns and tuxedos to attend these end-of-the-school-year parties is a rite of passage for tens of thousands of teenagers in Louisiana. Proms and graduations are often accompanied by other private parties before and after the big events.

Most schools and parents do a good job of working to ensure that alcohol is not a part of prom and graduation-related celebrations. Some schools have strict policies to deny admission to and send away any student who’s suspected of having been drinking alcohol. Students themselves have become engaged through such organizations as Students Against Destructive Decisions–more commonly referred to as SADD.

SADD’s mission is simple: “To provide students with the best prevention tools possible to deal with the issues of underage drinking, other drug use, impaired driving and other destructive decisions.”

Despite these many efforts, we much too often read in the newspapers or view on television reports of high school students who were involved in a horrific traffic crash while traveling to or from a prom or graduation-related celebration. Compounding the grief of the families and friends of those killed or injured frequently is the knowledge that alcohol was a factor in the crash.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. In 2010, about 2,700 teens in the U.S. aged 16-19 were killed and almost 82,000 were injured in vehicle crashes. In 2010, 22 percent of drivers aged 15 to 20 involved in fatal vehicle crashes were drinking. Fortunately, in Louisiana, the number of teen crash deaths in recent years has gone down or at least leveled off.

Parents have a great influence on the behavior of their teenagers, and at this time of the year it is especially important to monitor their activities. Parties should be supervised to ensure that alcohol is not consumed. Under no circumstances should parents serve alcohol or allow it to be consumed by underage partygoers in their homes. Remember, the legal age for purchasing alcohol is 21, and Louisiana law prohibits those under 21 from drinking and driving regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed.

Around this time of year, many state and local law enforcement agencies, educators, highway safety advocates and others reach out to the public with messages warning of the dangers of drinking and driving – especially among teenagers. DWI is dangerous for anybody, but especially so for teens who are less experienced behind the wheel.

Parents are encouraged to speak to their teenagers about the dangers of drinking and driving. The intense focus on teen drinking and driving is yielding positive results. Awareness of the issue has increased as the result of the coordinated work of students themselves, parents and highway safety organizations and law enforcement agencies.