By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
MARTINEZ, Calif. – A two-day program at Alhambra High School is endeavoring to prevent its students from becoming part of a tragic set of statistics.
The program is called “Arrive Alive,” and that’s its goal – helping young motorists reach their destination instead of being killed or injured in a crash.
Alhambra High School juniors and seniors participated in “Arrive Alive” Thursday and Friday, Nov. 19-20.
According to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death for American teenagers in 2013, the most recent year it can provide such numbers.
The center’s information shows that 2,163 people 16 to 19 years old were killed and another 243,243 were treated in emergency rooms after being involved in motor vehicle crashes. They’re three times as likely to be involved in a fatal crash as drivers who are 20 and older, according to the CDC.Boiled down to the barest point, the CDC numbers show that six teenagers die every day from vehicle accident-related injuries.
A variety of programs have been developed to counter that chilling statistic, and Alhambra High School students themselves chose to have Arrive Alive presented at the school, said Marianne Griffin, Alhambra High School student activities director.
“Last spring, students in the Student Leadership class brainstormed,” she said. The students encouraged discussion and formed committees that helped them evaluate the various types of programs that discourage impaired and distracted driving, two of the hazards young motorists face.
The students made presentations to school employees, District Superintendent Rami Muth and to some of the members of the school district’s Board of Education.
After six months, those involved chose “Arrive Alive,” an educational program that involves a simulator that let the school’s junior and senior classes experience firsthand what could happen if they drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs or get distracted by their cell phones or other interference.
The school’s freshmen and sophomore classes also got a shot at the simulator outside of class time, such as during open first or seventh periods, and during lunch, Griffin said.
“We felt that the juniors and seniors would benefit better because they are beginning to drive or have been driving for about a year,” said Lexi Hammer, a senior who helped bring Arrive Alive to her school.
“One of the slogans Arrive Alive has is: ‘It is dangerous, but go ahead and try it,’” she said. That means the students can climb into the simulator and try one of the two modes the machine has to challenge their driving skills.
“One of them is the drunk mode,” she said. “When you put on the goggles, you experience being drunk. Then the simulator will start, and the student in the driver seat will then drive and try to stay on the road.”
Because the simulator resembles how an intoxicated person sees the road, the student often “crashes” the car. But since it is a simulation, no one gets hurt, Hammer explained.
“The second mode is the texting mode,” she said. Participants use a phone and are given messages to text while the simulation is running. Once again, the students often find themselves unable to avoid accidents, even if they are just pretend accidents.
Each student who got behind the device’s wheel had about two minutes to see the hazards of distracted and impaired driving, and about 35 to 45 students gave the machine a try in an average class period, Hammer said.
One of the reasons the students chose Arrive Alive is the cost, Hammer said.
“The cost for Every 15 Minutes would have been near $10,000 or more,” she said.
Every 15 Minutes is another two-day program that takes its name from another frightening statistic that the program has managed to reduce. At one time, a teenager was killed in an impaired driving accident every 15 minutes. While the rate of death has improved, the program has kept its original name.
Rather than putting students in simulators, Every 15 Minutes calls a school’s student body to the site of a simulated fatal crash. Fellow students in bloody makeup portray accident victims and the drunk teen driver. Local police, fire and emergency response agencies participate, treating the accident and subsequent arrest as if it were real. The “drunk driver” also has to face a judge.
In addition, every 15 minutes, one student is pulled from the school by someone dressed as a Grim Reaper, and the death is treated as real.
During the second day, school students attend assemblies at which a film of the two-day event is shown. Most schools pay for the program through grants they or the law enforcement agencies obtain.
In contrast, Arrive Alive costs $5,000, which includes use of the simulator for two days, key chains with a reminder to drive safely and lanyards with cards with participating students’ pictures that were taken as they were in the machine. Students also sign a Casey’s Pledge, promising to remember what they have learned.
“We felt that the Arrive Alive program was a better fit for our school, and it brings the same message as Every 15 Minutes,” Hammer said.
In addition, students got to hear from representatives of Martinez Police, area firefighters and others who shared their observations about safe driving, Griffin said.
With Arrive Alive, Hammer added, students actually get into the driver’s seat and get into a simulated accident without getting hurt or leaving the Performing Arts Building, where the simulator was erected.
“I am very proud of the leadership, ownership, and follow through that these students have shown over the last six months,” Griffin said.