“Four Kids Died Today.” Did a School Safety Drill Go Too Far?

school announced teen road deathsEvery once in a while you really want to give high school students a wake-up call about drinking and driving.  Really shake them up. And for good reason: the NIH has figures showing that alcohol is involved in 37% of all traffic deaths among persons aged 16 to 20. But despite the shocking number of teen road deaths, too many kids just don’t get the message.

One Wisconsin school wanted to get its students’ attention. And it might have crossed the line.

Students at Brodhead High School, southwest of Milwaukee, received an announcement that four of their classmates had been killed in a texting incident. Later on, they were told that others had died at the hands of a drunk driver.

The anguished students tried to contact the students in question, to see if what they heard was really true. They got no response. There was shock and tears at the school, whose student body was relatively small and close-knit.

The announcements continued through the day, with the death toll piling up, and eventually the students caught on that they were not real – it was all too much.

The exercise was an attempt to drive home the reality that teen drivers were vastly more likely to die in collisions than drivers in other age groups. And the teens who would die might be them, or their own close friends.

The students who “died” agreed not to communicate via phone in order to maintain the illusion, which for a while was as disturbing as one might expect.

Can a Good Scare Prevent Teen Road Deaths?

Was it a good idea? Opinions are divided.  There have been apologies, and a number of parents objected that the drill was extreme, and it was also insensitive to students who had actually lost a loved one in a road collision.

Some students were supportive, noting that high school kids are notorious for not paying attention to anything adults say – perhaps a good scare is what is needed.

The question is, of course, if a good scare is really what is needed. Will it help stem the tide of teen road deaths? Will students at Brodhead High School drive more safely, unimpaired, and undistracted, now that they were shocked by a safety drill?

Or is road safety a bigger project, involving a change of culture? Drunk driving has been on the decline in general for decades, thanks to the efforts of legislators and organizations like MADD which work for stronger ignition interlock laws, and which promote public awareness of the issues around the crime. Continuing that work, with even greater emphasis on teens, might be a smarter move than one-off shock tactics, however well-intentioned.