The kids who play dead to save lives
July 25, 2019 6:49 AM   Subscribe

ON A HOT APRIL MORNING in Shingle Springs, California, volunteers inside a gym at Ponderosa High School are painting teenagers with fake blood. Others hold battery-powered fans a few inches from their faces to mess up their hair. A man dressed as the Grim Reaper peruses a folding table laden with peanut butter pretzels, gummy bears, and doughnuts. Evan Chavez, an 18-year-old senior, and Ella Beezley, a 17-year-old junior, are waiting their turn at the makeup station. “I’m in the car with Alex—as the passenger—who’s the drunk driver,” explains Chavez. “And I get critically injured and helicoptered to the hospital.” ... “I’m the passenger in the other car, and I get hit and die,” says Beezley, who will have a large head wound applied above her wide hazel eyes. “I’m dead on the scene.” Andy Wright for Topic on whether the Every 15 Minutes program prevents teenage drunk driving. via Nicole Cliffe
posted by ChuraChura (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is super interesting, thank you!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:54 AM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

My high school did something like this. The principal announced student deaths over the intercom. Some kids walked around solemnly all day in white makeup and torn clothes. The fire department came out that afternoon with the jaws of life, and we stood around in the parking lot while paramedics rushed around students in makeup. A lot of kids stood around crying, including some who had been personally affected by the drunk driving deaths of some students’ older siblings a few years earlier.

Anecdotally, I can’t say the program was effective. Some of the kids who were crying that year were, by senior year, bragging about having driven drunk the night before. There was also a weird social element: I don’t know how to say it, but it was sort of a thing for the popular kids and jocks? My friends and I weren’t sure how to react to seeing some of our bullies putting on fake blood and acting solemn for a day. It was a surreal day for a lot of us. Mostly I feel bad for the kids who had to relive the trauma of having lost someone.

I know my school had a drunk-driving problem, so I understand the motivation. I’m just not sure how effective it was.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 7:12 AM on July 25, 2019 [13 favorites]

I remember this program at my HS--I wasn't one of the participants but I remember them mentioning that they got a bit chastised by the program folks for "not taking it seriously" since it was an arts & humanities school and the students wanted to put their artistic skills to use rather than fall in line with whatever the program folks wanted them to do.

For me, the most moving part of it (that I remember) is when the principal spoke at the program closing and legitimately choked up when talking about how she would stay up all night on big school events hoping that her phone wouldn't ring with news that someone had been killed in a drunk driving accident. That was more impactful than the makeup and gore and busted up car that sat on the front lawn of the school for 2 weeks.
posted by sperose at 7:15 AM on July 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

I remember sitting through a fake crash program 20+ years ago. At the time I thought it was tasteless and ineffective, a poorly produced after-school special. But I deferred to grown-up wisdom that it would be good for us. Now in possession of grown-up wisdom myself, I think it's tasteless and ineffective.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:27 AM on July 25, 2019 [19 favorites]

The article was a good balance of detailing the theatrics of Every 15 Minutes and the (lack of) data that supports the elaborate productions, and suggestions to actually/ further lead to change.
Every 15 Minutes is named for a 1990s statistic describing the frequency at which people die in alcohol-related motor-vehicle crashes. That rate is now every 50 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Every 15 Minutes hasn’t adjusted to reflect the new data.
But decades of research have cast doubt on the effectiveness of scare tactics, particularly for teens.
Many experts say teens’ brains don’t assess risk the same way adult brains do, although this doesn’t necessarily support the educational value of fear. “The problem here is that there is discontinuity in adolescent brain development, where the parts of the brain associated with risk and reward develop much more quickly and earlier than the parts of the brain associated with executive judgment,” says Dr. David Jernigan, a professor of health law, policy, and management at Boston University School of Public Health who studies teens and alcohol. “So what you're basically doing is setting up an educational campaign that's appealing to a part of the young person's brain that is disadvantaged, compared to the part of the young person's brain that is drawn to risk.”
In college, I imagined a comic about the grim reaper stalking through a college town, with college bros laughing with red cups in their hands, ignoring the specter of death. Death dejectedly turns to a cat, who shrugs and says "they laugh in the face of death every day. Come back after they graduate and they start paying for their care-free lifestyle" ... or something like that.
“The big problem with programs like Every 15 Minutes is they disregard the environmental cues that are so much more powerful in affecting young people's decisions around drinking and driving,” says Dr. Jernigan, who was part of the 13-member committee that produced the 2018 report. “Things like how cheap alcohol is. How easy it is to get it. How attractively and ubiquitously it’s advertised. Unless you’re tackling those big environmental drivers, you are swimming upstream against a tidal wave.”
Or, we look to countries where drinking ages are lower, where alcohol is widely available, and look to see how those countries, communities and people treat alcohol. Are ads any less wide-spread, or depicting alcohol less attractively? I'm not sure, but I rather doubt it. Making it forbidden or fiscally inaccessible sounds like way to make it more attractive.

And maybe it's more than just public attitude to alcohol consumption. Are consumption rates the same in other countries? Maybe it's better transit services, with higher bus and train frequency, more routes and later service.

But National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) funds safety training, police checkpoint blitzes, "Every 15 Minutes," not increased transit services.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:33 AM on July 25, 2019 [11 favorites]

American communities sure love any kind of program that involves horrifying or scaring teenagers for their own good.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:39 AM on July 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

In my HS some students died in a really horrible and alleged DUI car crash. (Not doubting it, just never knew the actual details.)

They decided it would be a good idea to do some kind of "scared straight" thing where they placed the rolled up, shattered ball of the car on the school lawn for a month, complete with blood inside the car. It was in extremely poor taste.

And as teenagers we were more like "Woah, that's fuckin' metal." and didn't really scare us because we were teenagers and didn't even know how to give a shit.

I recall they did some theatrical stuff like the FPP but it had such a little impact I don't even remember it and it makes me wonder how much it cost and how many books the library could have bought instead.

In hindsight? What would have actually helped is engaged parents, parents who weren't bullies that didn't raise bullies and/or parents that weren't outright abusive. (These things were rarely mutually exclusive.)

That and some substance abuse education that was more than "just say no" or zero tolerance bullshit.
posted by loquacious at 7:44 AM on July 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

My high school did this my senior year, 18 years ago. The general consensus among the students (at least the ones I interacted with regularly -- it was a big school) was that it was pretty tacky and dumb. The only part that impacted me enough to stick with me had nothing to do with drunk driving. After a kid was taken out of my econ class, our teacher (who had lost his wife to cancer several years before) stood in front of the classroom in silence for a moment, and then said, "The hardest part is waking up the next day and wondering what you do now." I will never forget that, and I choked up just now remembering it.
posted by natabat at 7:51 AM on July 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

They decided it would be a good idea to do some kind of "scared straight" thing where they placed the rolled up, shattered ball of the car on the school lawn for a month, complete with blood inside the car.

Ffffff ... that's like a literal nightmare I had once. Was this the '80s? How could that even happen? Who would donate the totaled car?
posted by Countess Elena at 7:51 AM on July 25, 2019

Who would donate the totaled car?

The insurance company agent who totaled it and insures the rest of the student drivers?
posted by pwnguin at 7:56 AM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if alcohol or drugs were a factor in any of the motor vehicle deaths at my high, I don't think so, I think it was just a guy who took a left turn too hard and rolled a VW bus; the other, maybe. Probably. I don't think the guy was really drunk, but, for an inexperienced driver, any impairment is too much. But I don't think either of those really changed anyone's driving.
posted by thelonius at 8:21 AM on July 25, 2019

We just had the drunk driving simulators that everyone thought was surprisingly fun, despite being told to take it seriously. It definitely had no effect.

The kid who died from drunk driving at my school was given a class-wide assembly honoring him that called it a “tragic accident” without ever mentioning that he was DUI — along with pages in the yearbook dedicated to his life. It was widely considered something that “happened to him.”

The kid who shot himself just sort of vanished one day. No memorials. Didn’t even make the class pictures in the yearbook. It was widely considered to be his fault for exercising poor judgement.

You get one guess each as to their backgrounds and living situations.
posted by MysticMCJ at 9:44 AM on July 25, 2019 [10 favorites]

We had the crashed car on our lawn and some assemblies, nothing this grotesque. But yes, the popular kids were also the participants in my school, and also the ones most likely to be driving drunk (no matter how often all we goth kids got pulled into the principal's office).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:59 AM on July 25, 2019

We did this at my high school as part of the EMT training program (I was, at the end of it, fully prepped and ready for taking an EMT certification test -- it was a really great course and if schools aren't offering it when my kids are high school age because ha ha ha ha budgets I'll pay to put them through one because LIFE SKILLS). I forget what it was called but it had some sort of name like TRIAGE DAY or TRAUMA DAY and the idea was that there had been some sort of major accident and we were all dead, dying, or lightly grazed.

We did it down by the train tracks, the scenario was a train collision. It was the job of the EMT students to triage out the "patients". We were all covered in fake blood and stuff. Afterwards a few of us pretended to be zombies.

All of this had a purpose. We lived 7 miles from the San Onofre nuclear power plant, and the shadow of its potential always hung over us.

I'll never forget the emotional impact, though, of sorting my friends for triage. You can joke about Joe and Audrey "not making it". But there's a part of you that lingers over those words, and always will.
posted by offalark at 10:01 AM on July 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

Ffffff ... that's like a literal nightmare I had once. Was this the '80s? How could that even happen? Who would donate the totaled car?

Late 80s, yeah. I have no fucking idea who made all of that happen, but I think MADD was involved if I'm recalling correctly.

Our school was - in hindsight - a rather toxic place and it started with the administration. Our local PD was also a known hive of bastards that is now infamous for starting police riots and other brutality, and I lived in a rather shitty suburb that wasn't known for sensitivity or anything even resembling political correctness.

What I remember most was how many of my peers and I just wanted to ogle the mangled car and blood stains because "Woah, cool! Death!" and morbid fascination. I don't think it had the intended results. As a teenager it wasn't even remotely traumatizing

Also in hindsight, the students and young adults that got in the most trouble with excessive drinking and or DUIs were mainly all the popular and/or rich kids and/or kids with pushy type-A parents that demanded too much achievement and success out of their kids, despite the fact that these parents were about as evolved as random slime mold despite financial success.
posted by loquacious at 10:01 AM on July 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Stop this ghoulish bullshit and invest more in self driving cars.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:35 PM on July 25, 2019

My high school had us attend this program in which we visited the local hospital and discussed the various details of long-term hospital care after car accidents (I specifically recall catheterization being one of them). There were later portions involving drunk glasses and some other stuff but I do recall all the medical details for whatever its worth. It at least appears to be research-based.
posted by lookoutbelow at 2:44 PM on July 25, 2019

I was part of this with SADD (students. against. drunk. driving). I was the group that dressed all in black, painted our faces white, and wore paper headstones around our necks. We didn't speak a word all day. Just a day of silenced voices. The other half of the group did the car with the firemen.

I don't think it convinced anyone of anything, but us SADD members felt very self important and heroic.

It was staged a couple weeks before prom too.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 2:50 PM on July 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

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