Every 15 Minutes Brings Alcohol-Fueled Driving Deaths to Life

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John Ferrannini, Editor-in-Chief

Every 15 Minutes, a two day program meant to increase teen awareness of the dangers of drunk driving, brought the campus to a standstill on Nov. 14 and 15.

Selected students were taken out of their classes at 15 minute intervals. At that time the sound of a heartbeat was played over the speaker system to signify a death from an alcohol related car accident.

The students who were initiated into the ranks of the “living dead” knew beforehand about their participation in the program.

“The counselors picked me a month in advance and there was a meeting,” senior Josh Abernathy said. “My parents wrote my obituary. On the actual day, the grim reaper came to my classroom, read my obituary, andescorted me out of class. They left a rose on my desk.”

Half way through the first day of the program, the entire student body witnessed a simulation of a drunk driving accident involving students that was put on with the help of the fire and police departments.

Mark Lyon was among four seniors chosen to be part of the simulation.

“They chose kids for the reenactment that would represent every clique or friend group at the school,” Lyon said. “They intermixed football and drama kids.”

Lyon, who “died” in the simulation, was taken to the morgue in a body bag.

“It was definitely a real experience because you’re lying in the body bag in the back of a hearse. It’s a weird atmosphere being locked in the freezer and having the examiners talk about how they get two or three a day put in. It puts it in perspective that this does happen.”

The parents of those who “died” were informed about their child’s passing by a police officer and a chaplain.

“My parents said they wouldn’t get upset because they knew it wasn’t real,” he said. “But when the cops and the chaplain came to their door their hearts dropped and my Mom teared up a bit.”

After the car crash simulation, the “living dead” were taken to a hotel for the night where they could not have contact with family, friends, or the outside world.

“We went on a party bus to the hotel and came up with nicknames for everybody on the bus,” Abernathy said. “At the hotel, we did some trust building activities. They put us in groups of six and we had to figure out a way to get across the room with only three body parts touching at a time. We had no electronics and the police searched us thoroughly.”

The second day of the program was a funereal style service including music, personal stories, and the reading of some of the obituaries.

The program elicited strong reactions from students.

“I liked Every 15 Minutes,” freshman Breanna White said. “I thought it scares people and even though I can’t drive it made me look at my life. I made the decision that I will never drink and drive. I wish more people took it seriously. I feel like a lot of people made a joke out of it and I think they should take it seriously because they could be affected.”

“I thought it was a very powerful and emotional experience,” senior Jill Henderson said. “It made me never want to drink and drive.”

“It really affected me because so many people I knew died,” senior Samantha Kimber said.

Those who had a deeper participation in the program agreed.

Josh Abernathy said that Every 15 Minutes “was a very positive experience and it deeply affected me.”

Also involved in the program was Principal Brian Ginter, who played the grim reaper.

“When the planning got down to the last stages, I went to meet the emergency response team and the parents to make sure things would work out with the schedule,” he said.

“It’s the first time I have been involved to the full extent of the program. For me, I think its an eye opening experience for kids to be pulled out of class.”

Despite the deep short term impact felt by many students, the long term efficacy of the program has been called into question.

One of the only studies conducted regarding the program was five years after its 1995 inception. The study, titled “Measuring the Effectiveness of a Community-Sponsored DWI Intervention for Teens,” and published in the

American Journal of Health Studies, found that the Every 15 Minutes program did change attitudes towards drunk driving but failed to significantly change long term risky behaviors.

“Analysis of the data does demonstrate a statistically significant improvement in attitudes towards drinking and driving,” the study said. “The data does not show a measurable improvement in self-reported behavior toward drinking and driving.”

Principal Ginter supports the program in spite of drawbacks.

“Obviously it doesn’t have the same effect on everyone when it comes to the long term impact,” he said. “But as long as we have an effect on a couple of kids, it’s a good thing to do.”

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