'Every 15 Minutes'

Students fake DUI deaths to drive home dangers of drinking and driving

Wielding a scythe, the dark, hooded figure loomed large over the scene -- dragging the rusty metal blade across the roof of one of the two mangled cars, producing an awful nails-on-chalkboard screetch. The specter was surrounded by limp, pale bodies, shattered glass and empty beer bottles.

Not to mention a film crew, police and fire officials, and two very concerned members of Mountain View High School's Associated Student Body. Sophomores Kelly Vroom and Sofia Biros, gave directions and reminded their peers not to laugh. In order for the scene to have the proper impact, they would all need to play it straight.

The group of about 30 students, teachers and emergency response professionals was just half an hour away from the beginning of an assembly aimed at driving home the grave the consequences of drinking and driving.

The production, held at 11:30 a.m., April 17, on the high school football field, was put together in partnership with Every 15 Minutes, a California Highway Patrol-run program that works with high schools around the state. According to the CHP website, the program focuses on juniors and seniors -- challenging them to "think about drinking, driving ... and the impact their decisions have on family, friends, and many others."

Students were positioned in cars to appear as if they had died in a drunken wreck. One girl lay face down on the field -- a beer bottle in her hand, as a makeup artists meticulously applied fake brains to her head. Soon, the entire MVHS student body would be in the bleachers watching as the potential consequences of drinking and driving were spelled out in gory detail on Carl Anderson Field.

Some students cracked jokes and laughed with one another as they took their positions, and Biros even smiled from time to time. But while Biros found occasion to grin, she said she finds nothing funny about the scene.

"I really hope the students realize how serious drinking and driving can be," the sophomore said. Though her life has never been directly impacted by such a tragedy, she said the subject is important to her. "I know a lot of people who think it's OK to drive under the influence, and I really want to show them that this is what happens and we want those kids to be able to have a future."

The Every 15 Minutes program, along with changing societal mores, have an impact, according to Arturo Montiel, public information officer for the Redwood City CHP office. In 1995, statistics showed that every 15 minutes someone would die in the U.S. as the result of a drunken driving accident. That number has come down. Now the statistical breakdown shows that every 53 minutes someone is killed as a result of drinking and driving.

Virginia Jones, an administrative officer with American Medical Response of Napa County, has worked on Every 15 Minutes events for 10 years. She acknowledged that the number of DUI related events has dropped, but said there is much work to be done. "We're getting better, but it's not good enough," she said.

Jones believes that the program contributes to the reduction in teens getting behind the wheel impaired. Another factor, she noted, is that it is not as socially acceptable to drink and drive as it was in the 1990s.

The planning period leading up to the April 17 event was initiated by Vroom, secretary of the MVHS Associated Student Body. Vroom told the Voice that the event was very personal to her. When she was a young girl, a friend and fellow basketball teammate was killed in a drinking-related accident.

Though the details of the memory are sparse, she remembers thinking that it simply "wasn't fair."

Last year, when Vroom found out about the program, she pushed her teachers and school administrators to bring Every 15 Minutes to MVHS.

The day after the mock crash, April 18, students were shown video of what might happen in the aftermath of such a tragic event. Every 15 Minutes camera crews followed officers as they went to the homes of students, knocked on the door and told the teens' parents that their children had been "killed."

Though Montiel and Jones acknowledged that some teens laugh during the mock accident assembly, Montiel said that when it comes to watching the parents' reactions -- even though the parents know their children really aren't dead -- things change. "When the kids see the parents' reactions," he said, "you can hear a pin drop."

Barry Groves, superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District said he thought the Every 15 Minutes production was very well done.

"I thought it was an intense and important thing to do for the district," Groves said. "The message that we give to not drink and drive is something that we can't say enough of."

Groves was also pleased that the event was initiated by Vroom -- which he might just give the presentation an added feeling of legitimacy for the students. "Having an adult stand up in front of a class and say, 'Don't drink and drive,' is not as effective as a program like this," he said.

Jones said she was also pleased with the result, and that even if one life was saved the eight months of planning that went into the event were worth it.

"It doesn't change everybody," Jones said. "But if we can save one life we've done our jobs."


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Posted by Wo\'O Ideafarm
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Wo\'O Ideafarm is a registered user.

I killed a young motorcyclist when I was a junior in high school. The long story designed to persuade you that the death was not entirely my fault will be omitted. I killed a man, before I had even reached the age of manhood. He died, not from malice, but from my stupidity, my negligence, my selfishness.

Mr. Veronin's informative and clear article leaves me with one question. Those eight months of work and the resulting presentation showed the students what they might do to themselves. But did it show them what they might do to someone else? Did it make them feel what it feels like to have killed a young man?

What is more awful, that you experience a few seconds of horror, and perhaps a split second of pain, before all becomes black, forever, or that you awaken to be told that you just killed your friend, your brother, some small child, or someone that you didn't know and now never will?

I can tell you which is more awful. If you meet me on the street, look closely into my eyes, and you will see the answer.

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Posted by Kendall Pearson
a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2013 at 10:31 am

It pains me to read the comment above. Please be assured that personal responsibility is a primary focus of this program. The message is "There are consequences for your actions" and "Make good decisions". Please forgive the pun but drunk driving is only the vehicle to deliver the message. Our high school students face so many more social challenges than we did as kids: Social media, changing social norms, mass communications and others. Every 15 Minutes is one of the few programs that specifically addresses these issues. Many people and many hours of planning brought E15M to MVHS. Thank you to the school district, Mountain View Police and Fire, EMS, CHP, the parent volunteers and the students who made this program happen. Hopefully this group of kids will think before making a bad decision, change course, and avoid a life changing event like the one that so profoundly effected the gentleman who posted above.

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Posted by SmartHoward
a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2013 at 11:10 am

To the gentleman that first posted. You and I, are a lot more alike then we seem. Except for the fact, that I feel this program, is one of the greatest thing that the county of Samta Clara can do for these kids. They actually do get to see what it feels like to "kill" someone under the influence. The mock accident, consist of a student killing 2 people in the car crash. They are arrested, taken to jail and then they watch a video of parents being told their child was killed, due to a drunk driver. Then, the student responsible for the crash, has their parent read them a letter, about how they've changed so many people's lives. Why do I think that it's working, why do I think that the students are listening? I've volunteered for Mrs. Jones, an amazing woman, for the past 5 years, telling the kids what happened with me. Like you, believe it or not, I hit someone on a motorcycle, and he died. It changed my life in so many ways. I don't have to tell my story to a group of strangers. I just feel it's important they know, they are not invincible and it can happen to them. People would never guess in a million years, upon meeting me, that I'm a felon. If they looked closely into my eyes, they'd most definitely see the

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 21, 2013 at 6:08 am

Groups that use these types of statements ("every x minutes something bad happens") are ignorant of probability theory. Statements like these are not probability measures. There are over 300 million people living in the U.S. and 525,600 minutes in a year. Last year according to CDC about 2.5 million people died. Which means someone died every 8 seconds. The odds ratio of dying this year from a drunk driver are extremely rare compared to people dying of all causes(53 x 60)/8.

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Posted by Wo\'O Ideafarm
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2013 at 8:42 am

Wo\'O Ideafarm is a registered user.

Respected neighbors who use these types of statements ("someone died every 8 seconds") are ...

Sorry, my dear friend Political Insider; I just couldn't resist.

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Posted by Statistician
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 22, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Political Outsider, these statements summarize expected rates based on probability and statistics. While any given fifteen minutes may contain any number of deaths from zero to the entire population, you *can* calculate the expected number given current trends.

If you his weren't possible, there would. E no insurance industry.

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Posted by Sofia Biros
a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Every 15 Minutes has been a program very important to me for the past 14 months, and I believe that it is necessary to know about the entire program before jumping to brash conclusions about its harms (or personally, benefits).

This article simply covers the first day of the event, and not the entire program. The full program is a two day event, not just day one's "crash scene," the second day of which is a very powerful and solemn experience.

The second day's"funeral" and it's video showing all parts of the first day's events, accompanied by a keynote speaker (a woman who lost her son to drinking and driving) really shows the student body what it's like for other people, and what effect it has on others.

Sofia Biros

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 24, 2013 at 12:02 am

@ Statistician. probabilities are values between zero and one. The stat provided is not a probability nor an expected value. The above ratio is (# of bad things per year/minutes in a year). The ratio is neither a probability or expected value. Suppose we consider MVHS as the student population, would we observe 4 students dying every hour. One way to frame as a probability would be form a frequency of (# of bad things per year/ relevant population per year) . You could then apply this ratio to any sub population group if you think its relevant and also derive an expected number of bad things from the frequency.

Insurance companies do not need individual probabilities to calculate premiums. They only need to observe the average frequency per group. For example (# of seniors that die per year/ US pop of seniors per year). Doesn't make sense to talk about # dying per minute with out defining the relevant population size. In the above article, its unclear what is the relevant population.

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Posted by Wo\'O Ideafarm
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2013 at 6:52 am

Wo\'O Ideafarm is a registered user.

Political Insider, give me a break! The "Every 15 minutes" title is entirely reasonable and effective, and reportedly was accurate when the program began. Such expressions are in common use in society, such as "A child is born every X seconds." or "Every X minutes someone is diagnosed with leukemia." These are statements of sample frequencies in a population. The particular population, such as "world" or "U.S.", is often implied.

You are correct that the phrase "every 15 minutes" tells us nothing about the probability since we don't know the size of the population. But in a title, brevity is essential, and the purpose of this title is to capture the students' attention and cause that student to visualize the CARNAGE. Ultimately, the actual probability is irrelevant to the purpose.

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 24, 2013 at 10:43 pm

@Wo\'O Ideafarm,

Give me a break. Is the objective to show CARNAGE or suggest these events are very likely. These statements are not frequencies because the sample space is unlimited. If you put (# of bad things/sample population) as a ratio then it might make sense.

You could also put the 15 minutes in context by pointing out that there are many other bad things that happen to teenagers like one every minute. The 15 minutes statement is deceiving. The chance of a teenage DUI accident is extremely rare. Just ask how many take place in this county every year. Just a couple, suggesting a very rare event.

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Posted by Wo\'O Ideafarm
a resident of another community
on Apr 25, 2013 at 8:23 am

Wo\'O Ideafarm is a registered user.

Ah, a real conversation! I agree with you, Political Insider, as I often do, and I have again enjoyed your art in making your point. But here I think that you are being a bit of a "wet blanket". "Every 15 Minutes" is a great title for a great program. A title such as "Something bad will happen with probability 0.000015" is just not going to grab the attention of teenagers.

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Posted by Political Insider
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 25, 2013 at 11:04 am

@ Wo\'O Ideafarm,

OK maybe I am a little wet (with a non-alcoholic liquid) . I do want teenagers to act better, but programs like these use govt resources and seem to get a life on their own. As mentioned in the article, the rate has significantly decreased and is almost 1/4 of what is was. Doesn't this mean the program is a success. I wonder if these resources should be shifted to more important things to teach teenagers that they are more likely to experience.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by incognito
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2013 at 10:36 am

You guys can argue all you want about statistics, but the unfortunate truth is that there is almost no research to show that the program described does anything to reduce alcohol use or drunk driving by teenagers. They make organizations feel like they did something to address the problem, but whether they really "save lives" is questionable. Look it up.

Is anyone at MVHS going to measure the impact of this program, to see if the time, money, and effort was worth it?

Sorry, I admire the good intentions of all participants, just wonder if it's a good use of resources. Hope to be proven wrong.

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Posted by Wo\'O Ideafarm
a resident of another community
on Apr 30, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Wo\'O Ideafarm is a registered user.

You both made my day by raising the issue of wasteful government spending. But "Every 15 minutes" is just about the last place that I would look. When practical, claimed results should be quantified and verified. But my own personal experience being a teenager who drank and drove makes me think that the pennies spent to engage the students with "Every 15 Minutes" are well spent.

My own view is that we should abolish unions for government workers across the board. This is a structural change that would remove an insane feature of our democratic system.

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