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Driving home the point for teens

With graduation coming up soon, local organizations send out an invitation to families to help educate teen on the dangers of drinking and driving
With senior graduation swiftly approaching the local M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) chapter along with the Underage Drinking Initiative Project extends an invitation to families to remind teens about the pitfalls of drinking and driving.
   In lieu of the traditional assembly held prior to graduation geared toward educating youth about the dangers of drinking and driving, M.A.D.D. and area organizations are combining forces to urge youth to stay safe by not drinking and driving and staying away from those who do.
   M.A.D.D. coordinator Sandi Vachter indicated that a number of local organizations including OSSOM (Oregon Safety Students on the Move), Dave's Towing, the Prineville Police, the Fire Department and the Sheriff's office have been working together to host a Sober Graduation event.
   In light of the recent automobile accident where a Crook County youth lost her life, the group decided against holding the event.
   "The Sober Graduation was scheduled for May 23, but after the accident we decided we didn't want to re-traumatize the kids. That's not what we're about," Vachter said.
   "However, we still want to drive home the point that kids need to be careful about the way they are driving and encourage them to make wise choices. We know that with the good weather and graduation coming up - and all the fun and exciting things going on - that teens can be easily distracted. It only takes one minute to make that wrong choice and it could have devastating affects on your life or someone else's."
   According to national statistics provided by M.A.D.D., alcohol use is the number one drug problem among young people.
   Statistics from the last five years show that about 10 million current drinkers are under the age of 21 and 4.4 million are binge drinkers. Sadly, about eight young people die each day in an alcohol-related crash.
   According to Underage Drinking Initiative Project Manager of Crook County, Melody Bustillos, underage drinking is a serious issue in Crook County.
   Youth Risk Behavior Survey results for both the local middle school and high school came back higher than the state average for both alcohol use in the last thirty days and alcohol use ever for the second year in a row.
   Though the facts can be staggering, national statistics indicate that teens overall are paying attention to the efforts of anti-drinking campaigns showing that younger people (age 16-20) who host parties are most likely of any age group, to use various strategies to try to prevent their guests from drinking and driving.
   Additionally, during a 10 year period ending in 1998 the proportion of intoxicated drivers 16-to-20 years of age who were involved in fatal crashes, dropped 33 percent _ the largest decrease of any age group during this time period.
   Bustillos indicated that the goal is to raise awareness around the issue of underage drinking, especially this time of year with high school graduations, rodeos, horse races and other community festivities where alcohol is either available or a traditional part of the festivity.
   "We want to remind adults that they are in a role model position and have a unique opportunity to model celebrating events without alcohol," she said. "It is also important to make sure parents/guardians know where their children are going to be and whom they are going to be with."
   She added that as far as Oregon law goes, it is against the law to furnish or sell alcohol to any minor, with the exception of the minor being your son/daughter.
   Alcohol can be furnished to a son or daughter at the home of the parent, but not furnished to any other minors.
   "For students, we want to raise the awareness about safety, thinking about consequences and what the laws are regarding underage drinking," Bustillos said.
   Oregon is a zero tolerance state, which means that any blood alcohol content that registers on the scale for a person under 21 years of age can be grounds for losing your license and/or a fine.
   Also, a minor can be picked up for a minor in possession of alcohol if they are near alcohol _ they don't have to be consuming the alcohol or register a blood alcohol content.
   "Laws are in place for our safety and the safety of our children," Bustillos continued. "We want them to know that this is about caring about them and their safety, not denying them fun or a passage into adulthood.
   "We just want to reiterate that kids need to be aware and that one bad choice can really effect their life or someone else's," Vachter said.
   Although drinking and driving is a major concern for M.A.D.D. Vachter indicated that tragic accidents can happen where no substance abuse is involved. It's everyone's job to pay attention to the road and drive defensively.
   "You don't even have to have drugs or alcohol involved and there can be a real tragedy," she said. "It's about being attentive to your driving habits and staying aware by not talking on the cell phone or reaching around to get something from the back seat. It's really important to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel."