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Get Tough: Tackling the Nation's No. 1 Killer -- Drunk Driving -- Requires Agencies To Get Tough and Be Creative

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Technology Volume: 26 Issue: 10 Dated: October 1999 Pages: 72-76
Sanford Wesler
Date Published
October 1999
5 pages
This article describes some of the efforts of New York State and California to deter drunk driving, with attention to the "Every 15 Minutes" program sponsored by the California State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the Office of Traffic Safety.
The New York City Police Department is confiscating the vehicles of suspected drunk drivers. Convicted drunk drivers with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 or greater have their cars taken and sold at auction under civil forfeiture laws. In 1990 California lowered its legal blood-alcohol level to 0.08 percent, becoming the fourth State to adopt this strict standard. California police agencies regularly use sobriety checkpoints and DUI enforcement teams to make quick arrests. California's "Every 15 Minutes" program is intended to send the message to high school students that they are not invincible. Approximately 25 students, representing a cross-section of the high school, are selected to participate as "victims." Early in the morning, one student is removed from class every 15 minutes (the death rate from drunk driving in the early 1990's) and becomes one of the "living dead." A uniformed officer and a counselor enter the classroom and read each student's obituary to those remaining in the class. The obituary is posted in the classroom for the remainder of the school year. Throughout the day, members of the "living dead" place their tombstone in a temporary cemetery on the school campus so friends and classmates can mourn their loss. Next, a simulated drunk-driving collision that involves pre-selected high school students is staged on school ground for the benefit of the entire student body. Law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, and the coroner's office use the drill as a training exercise to simulate real-life responses. One of four students in the collision dies, and the drunk driver is arrested for driving under the influence, put in a squad car and taken to a police station for booking and placement in a holding cell. At the end of the school day, the "living dead" are taken to an overnight retreat, usually at a hotel. They do not return home and are not permitted to call friends or parents. During the evening, these students listen to presentations by people who have been involved in or affected by a drunk-driving collision. The evening concludes with the students writing letters to loved ones, expressing the thoughts they would convey if they had not been killed on that day. On the second day, the "living dead" return to school to attend a student assembly with their parents. After a structured program that impresses the assembly with the dangers and irreversible harms of drunk driving, everyone present is charged with making responsible choices regarding drinking and driving.