How do you get teens to really understand the consequences of drinking and driving? Lecture doesn’t work, especially when it’s coming from a parent or teacher. However, talk to them about what really can happen if you drink and drive, from someone close to their age who has gone through a horrible situation because of it, and they may listen.
That is the focus of Teen Safety Night, a mandatory event at Hunterdon Central Regional High School for all Juniors and their parents. Juniors are required to attend if they intend to request a parking spot for their Senior year.
Hunterdon Central, in collaboration with the Hunterdon County Safe Communities Coalition, held the first Teen Safety Night in December 2010. With the success of that night, with over 800 in attendance, it has become a yearly event. This year, Teen Safety Night was held on April 8-9, 2015, with about 1,100 students and parents attending over the two nights.
Attendees were shown a documentary created by the Coalition entitled In A Split Second, which provides true-life stories of people whose lives were changed “in a split second” due to the choices they made. Following the film, Eavan, one of the people featured in the film, shared her story of killing her best friend in a car accident due to alcohol intoxication and spending 4 years in a maximum security prison as a result. Her story was heartfelt and emotional, even after 9 years. Her message to the teens was, “Whatever you may be going through, don’t try to go through it alone. You think you can handle it and you start to self-medicate, but that’s not the answer. The Coalition is here to help, your counselors are here to help. Reach out to them.” She went on to say, “There’s a reason why the legal drinking age is 21. As a teen, you are not equipped to deal with the consequences.”
Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns, III also spoke. “Law enforcement in Hunterdon County is finding that the abuse of prescription drugs, heroin, and methamphetamine is growing. A person can become addicted to these dangerous drugs very quickly.”
The Prosecutor then spoke specifically to the students, “You never have to stop if you don’t start.” Then turning to the parents he said, “You are not called on to be your child’s friend, but I encourage you to be involved and present in your child’s life. Know who their friends are and what they are doing with their time.”
Additionally, Kearns encouraged the parents to continue the conversation that was started during Teen Safety Night as it is important to continue to reinforce to their children an awareness of the dangers and vulnerabilities that exist.
Caption: From left to right: Detective Frank Crisologo of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office; Karen A. Widico, Co-Executive Director of Hunterdon Prevention Resources, fiscal agent for the Safe Communities Coalition;
Anthony P. Kearns III, Hunterdon County Prosecutor; Cathy Canterino, Coalition Associate, Safe Communities Coalition; and Paul Approvato, Prosecutor’s Agent.
Each student who attended received a 911 Lifeline Legislation card as they came in. As explained by Karen Widico, Co-Executive Director of Hunterdon Prevention Resources (HPR), who is fiscal agent for the Coalition, “The 911 Lifeline Legislation was enacted to save lives. When a teen or young adult under 21 is in trouble due to drinking, it’s important to know that they can call 911 for help and not get in trouble with the law.”
This legislation provides immunity from prosecution when the steps below are followed:
- Call for Help. An underage person calls 911 and reports that another underage person is in need of medical assistance due to alcohol consumption. The underage person is the first person to make the 911 report.
- Stay with your Friend. The underage person (and, if applicable, one or two others acting in concert with the underage person who made the 911 call) remains on the scene with the underage person in need of medical assistance.
- Talk with Authorities. The underage person who called 911 and, if applicable, one or two others acting in concert with the caller, provide each of their names to the 911 operator and cooperate with medical assistance and law enforcement personnel on the scene.
The underage person who is receiving medical assistance is also immune from prosecution. This immunity applies to public and private property.
Similarly, the Overdose Prevention Act provides immunity for those in need of medical assistance due to a drug overdose. “Prescription (Rx) drug abuse is a problem today, no matter where you live, and it is here in Hunterdon County,” said Lesley Gabel, Coalition Program Director and HPR Co-Executive Director. “One way you can help in the fight against Rx abuse is to regularly clean out your medicine cabinets of unused and expired medications. The Coalition urges community residents to dispose of these medications at a permanent Rx drop box – there are currently 6 boxes located throughout the County.” The locations of these drop boxes can be found at www.safecoalition.org.
The Coalition would like to thank Hunterdon Central for their proactive approach to keeping our families safe. They worked with the Coalition to provide the first Teen Safety Night and have continued and grown the event since then. Vice Principal Richard Schneebeli provided information about distracted driving and showed a video of teens texting and driving and how quickly an accident can occur. Students who attended were asked to Take the Pledge to being a safe, distraction-free driver.
“Teen Safety Nights at Hunterdon Central are big nights for a number of reasons. For one, the students must attend with a parent in order to be eligible for parking next year. And while this is without a doubt the main reason they attend, there is a greater purpose to the event,” said Suzanne Cooley, Principal at Hunterdon Central. “Any time you have the opportunity to educate young people about the risks associated with substance abuse, distracted driving, and can encourage positive decision making, it is time well spent. Having a parent attend with their child is critical, as it demonstrates our commitment to ensuring the conversation doesn’t end when the program ends. Our hope is that the conversations continue for as long as they need to in order to help our students become the responsible adults and productive citizens that they aspire to be.”
Members of the Safe Communities Youth Coalition assisted with handing out the 911 Lifeline Legislation cards to all juniors, as well as raffle tickets for gift cards that were awarded throughout the evening.
Caption: From left to right: Teen members of the Safe Communities Youth Coalition Inna Dowd and Allie Obszanski.
The goal of the Safe Communities Coalition is to live in a safe and healthy community by eliminating drug use, underage drinking and prescription drug abuse. Through wide-spread community collaboration, environmental change, and community education in Hunterdon and Somerset counties, the Safe Communities Coalition will address areas of concern including, but not limited to, reducing Rx drug abuse across the lifespan, underage drinking, tobacco, marijuana, heroin, and other drug use. For more information on the Coalition, visit their website at www.safecoalition.org or follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SafeCommunitiesCoalition?ref=hl or Twitter @HunCOKnowINFO.