By Pam Slater-Price, Bill Gore and Nick Macchione
In October 2009, a Torrey Pines High student was driving while drunk. He crashed his car in Rancho Santa Fe, killing one passenger.
Months later, a 17-year-old cheerleader from Poway High School drove her SUV while intoxicated, lost control and the car flipped over many times. She died 90 minutes after texting her friend, “I’m hammered.”
These sad and devastating examples provide an all-too familiar reminder that teen drinking and driving is destroying lives in San Diego communities.
The rate of alcohol and drug-related accidents among drivers ages 16-20 is at the same level as in 1996, according to the 2009 San Diego County Report Card on Children and Families. Young people continue to use alcohol while operating motor vehicles.
The California Highway Patrol’s 2008 statistics for San Diego County show that 10 teen drivers and 12 teen passengers (ages 15-19) were killed, and another 1,949 were injured and treated. With nationwide advertising flaunting the virtues of alcohol, the county’s battle against drinking and driving is like fighting Godzilla armed with a fly swatter. The top U.S. beer maker spent $1.36 billion on advertising in 2007.
The County of San Diego is making a push to address this region wide problem of unsafe driving by teens.
The County has been aggressively pursuing DUI enforcement grants from the California Office of Traffic Safety. Recently our Sheriff’s Department and Probation Department were awarded $975,000 for DUI checkpoints and monitoring efforts.
In recent months, we have been developing a plan to promote safe driving and reduce teen drinking and driving. With the help of prevention coalitions, law enforcement, schools, families, and businesses, we are making headway.
We will closely evaluate the effectiveness of regional policies related to the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. We will explore more avenues to acquire additional state, and federal dollars, deploy a teen safe driving awareness marketing campaign closely in sync with high schools and area businesses, and we are working with community groups to better educate teens and parents about safe and responsible driving.
Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors allocated $30,000 toward a teen driving control clinic at Qualcomm Stadium. More than 100 teens and their parents participated in an interactive program designed to teach defensive, safe driving practices.
In May, the Sheriff’s Department began training deputies and teaching driver’s education and safety courses for new teenage drivers. Titled “Start Smart”, this free two-hour driver’s safety course provides teens and their parents with an array of important messages about avoiding collisions, safe driving habits, and parental roles and responsibilities concerning their teen driver. At this event, Sheriff’s deputies candidly share their experiences. They have already helped more than 1,000 teens and their parents understand the serious responsibilities of driving.
We look forward to building on the great things being done in San Diego to prevent teen driving tragedies. But we must do better in San Diego to keep our communities safe. Get involved and talk to your teen now, rather than later, about the perils of drinking and driving.
Commentary provided by Chairwoman Pam Slater-Price, San Diego County Board of Supervisors, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, and San Diego County Health and Human Services Director Nick Macchione