Prom is all about dresses and corsages, tuxedos and bow ties, but it’s also all too often about drinking. Prom typically kicks off the last month before graduation for high school seniors, which means that it is a time of both exceptional elation and major stress. It’s no surprise that teenagers about to be launched into independence often want to sneak a few drinks—or more than a few—during the biggest party of the year. Unfortunately, it’s also no surprise that some of these teenagers make the dangerous decision to drive under the influence.
Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States, and in 23 percent of fatal accidents among drivers ages 15 to 20, the driver was under the influence of alcohol. Among male drivers this age, 25 percent of fatal accidents involved a driver under the influence.
Staged Car Accidents Dramatic Reminders of Danger
Schools and parents are well aware of these statistics, and the start of prom season often means a redoubling of efforts to convince students of the dangers of driving drunk or getting into a vehicle with an intoxicated driver. At some schools, these efforts include dramatically staged car accidents that are intended to send a visceral message to the student body and make the hypothetical risks of drunk driving very real.
Typically, students are not aware of the staged crashes ahead of time so that the shock of seeing the wrecked car and the victims is as powerful as possible. The students in the staged crash are made up to have realistic-looking injuries, and emergency service personnel are on hand to get the victims out of the vehicle and prepare them for the hospital or declare them dead at the scene. In many of these staged accidents, the student victims are wearing prom dresses and tuxedos to add an extra layer of shock to the scenario and to bring awareness specifically to prom night drinking.
The incident doesn’t end with the staged crash. The student who was driving under the influence is “arrested” and often even booked in court or sentenced through a trial staged on school grounds with volunteer lawyers and judges from the community. Some of the students “die” in the crash and memorial services are held for them, while others suffer injuries that will affect them for life.
Numbers Down, But Many Teens Still Dying in Crashes
The evidence suggests that staged accidents and other teen drinking prevention efforts are having an impact. Since 1991, the number of high-schoolers who have driven while intoxicated has decreased by 54 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A 2011 study conducted by Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) found just 6 percent of high-schoolers admitted to drinking on prom night.
However, drunk driving is still a major problem among teens, and the CDC reports that 1 million teens drove while intoxicated in 2011. Not only are teens who drink and drive at much higher risk for fatal accidents, but they are also at higher risk for fatal accidents than older drivers at every level of blood-alcohol concentration (BAC). In other words, a sober teen is more likely to get in a fatal accident than a sober adult, and a teen with a 0.08 BAC is more likely to get in a fatal accident than an older adult with a 0.08 BAC.
Schools need to continue to spread awareness about the risks associated with underage drinking, particularly driving while drinking. In addition to staged car accidents, more and more schools have been implementing deterrent measures such as sobriety contracts, Breathalyzers to test students for sobriety as they enter and leave prom, and visible police presences.