State Highway Safety Showcase
Underage Drinking Prevention Conferences
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among drivers between the ages 15 and 20. Young drivers lack experience and have difficulty scanning their environments to detect imminent hazards. Adding alcohol to the mix just exacerbates these driving weaknesses, and young drivers who have been drinking tend to engage in other risky driving behaviors such as speeding, running red lights, making illegal turns, and not buckling up.
Although much progress has been made in the last two decades, alcohol-related crashes are all too common among young people. According to NHTSA, in 2008, nationwide, 31% of 15- to 20-year-olds who were killed in crashes had some level of alcohol in their blood. Drivers are also less likely to use restraints when they have been drinking. In 2008, 63% of young drivers of passenger vehicles involved in fatal crashes were unrestrained. Of the young drivers who had been drinking and were killed in crashes, 73% were unrestrained.
To help curb the problem of underage drinking – and underage drinking and driving – the the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security's Highway Safety Division (EOPSS/HSD) has been conducting Underage Drinking Prevention Conferences for both youth and the adults responsible for their safety.
Student Athlete Conferences
Sarah Panzau, Crash Survivor and Speaker in Recovery, addressing the students at the conference.
Youth often receive mixed or inconsistent messages about underage drinking, which can cloud their decision-making skills. Because adults play a part in children’s lives and can influence their decision-making, it is imperative that adults worth together with youth to prevent underage drinking and to form a united front against it.
That's why, in 2011, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security's Highway Safety Division (EOPSS/HSD) conducted two full-day underage drinking prevention conferences directed toward high school age student athletes, though all students were welcome to attend. The conferences supported a lifestyle free of alcohol and other drug use, even amid a culture that considers alcohol and other drug use by adolescents as the norm. Students, coaches, and administrators participated in workshops, addressing the effects of alcohol on athletes as well as sportsmanship, highway safety, and strategies to curb underage drinking.
The first conference was held May 11, 2011 at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, and the second was held on June 1 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. The two conferences saw a combined 500 attendees, including students, coaches, law enforcement and other traffic safety advocates. The Basketball Hall of Fame and Gillette Stadium provided additional support to enhance the program. For example, New England Patriots player Patrick Pass, a six year Patriot fullback, was one of the speakers who inspired the young athletes. Additional speakers included Undersecretary Karen Wells; Massachusetts State Police Superintendent Colonel Marian McGovern; Sarah Panzau, Social Responsibility Speaker; Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon Race Director and motivational speaker; and Ashley Weisse, a former ice skating champion and drug addict.
EOPSS/HSD received many favorable responses from the attendees about these conferences and plans to continue this program in FFY 2012.
District Attorneys Conferences
Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey; Professor Michael Siegel, M.D., M.P.H., Dept. of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health; EOPSS Secretary Mary Beth Heffernan; and The Hon. Paul C. Dawley, Regional Administrative Justice, Administrative Office of the Trial Court.
In addition to the Student Athlete Conferences, EOPSS/HSD also provided funding for five District Attorneys offices to host underage drinking prevention conferences throughout the Commonwealth.
These conferences brought together stakeholders from a variety of areas, including school sports organizations, medical professions, and law enforcement. Collectively, the conferences were attended by approximately 400 people.
Attendees gained in-depth knowledge on issues such as brain development, social host laws, and tools to combat underage drinking. Grantees reported successes such as forging new partnerships and implementing policy changes.
As part of this project, each awardee was responsible for:
- Creating a plan to increase community readiness to deal with underage drinking and to change the norms regarding underage drinking;
- Working to create an atmosphere that respects the laws and promotes community and healthy social norms;
- Providing a forum for stakeholders to discuss perceptions of their community environment regarding social pressures, responsible decisions concerning alcohol use, and how laws are enforced; and
- Hosting a variety of workshops on topics such as the link between alcohol use and highway safety and making responsible decisions regarding alcohol use.
Although the programs have ended, all five grantees have reported that underage drinking prevention activities and strategies will continue into the foreseeable future thanks to the spark provided by the conferences.
- Dan DeMille
Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, Highway Safety Division