Every 15 Minutes is a national program developed by a police officer to address the teen drunk driving epidemic. The program’s name comes from data in the early 1990’s that every 15 minutes someone in the United States dies in an alcohol-related traffic accident. In 1997 a Youth Center participant, a high school junior, was vacationing in Washington State, when she learned of this program. She thought it would be a great addition to the teen programming offered by the Youth Center and would be of specific benefit to her peers at Los Alamitos High School. The Youth Center first researched the program and then began taking steps to implement it. We formed partnerships with all of the agencies needed to implement this dramatic, life-changing program. Acting as the Lead Agency, the Youth Center collaborates with Los Alamitos High School, Seal Beach Lion’s Club, Los Alamitos Police Department, Seal Beach Police Department, Cypress Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, Orange County Fire Authority, Cypress Forest Lawn, Orange County Courthouse and jail, and numerous local businesses. Beginning in the spring of 1999, and every-other-year since, Every 15 Minutes has been conducted on the campus of Los Alamitos High School.
Approximately 6-months prior to implementation, an invitation to play a role in the program is extended to high school junior and senior year students. Of the 200+ applications we receive, a total of 32 students representing a cross section of high school social groups and ethnicity are selected. Along with their parents, the youth go through several months of focused training to maximize the impact of the program for the students in the community.
The Every 15 Minutes program offers real-life experience without the real-life risks. This powerful program challenges students to think about drinking, personal safety, and the responsibility of making mature decisions when lives are involved.
During the first day events one student is removed from class every 15 minutes. A police officer will immediately enter the classroom to read an obituary prepared by the family. From that point on “victims” will not see, speak or in any way interact with other students for the remainder of the program. Simultaneously, uniformed officers will make mock death notifications to the parents of these children at their home, place of employment or business. During lunch, a simulated traffic collision is conducted on the school grounds. Rescue workers treat injured student participants. These students will experience firsthand, the sensations of being involved in a tragic, alcohol-related collision. The coroner will handle fatalities on the scene, while the injured students will be extricated by the jaws-of-life manned by Fire-Fighters and Paramedics. Police Officers will investigate, arrest, and book the student “drunk driver”. Student participants will continue their experience by an actual trip to the morgue, the hospital emergency room, and to the police department jail for the purpose of being booked for “drunk driving”.
At the end of the day, those students who participated in the staged accident as well as those who were made-up as the “living dead” are transported to the County Courthouse where they participate in a mock trial, experience holding cells (drunk tank) and to a mortuary, where they will select a casket for a loved-one killed in an alcohol related accident. Finally, they are transported to a local hotel for an overnight student retreat. The retreat will simulate the separation from friends and family. A support staff of counselors and police officers facilitate the retreat.
During the most powerful program of the retreat, the students will be talking about life, struggles they have and the value of live. Then each student will write a letter to his or her parents that begins with . . .
“Dear Mom and Dad, every fifteen minutes someone in the United States dies from an alcohol related accident. Today I died. I never had the chance to tell you…….”
At the same time, their parents will also be in a retreat and asked to write similar letters to their children. These letters will be shared the following day when students and parents will be reunited at a school assembly. Some of the letters (approved by students and parents) will be shared during the school assembly.
The students will engage in exercises and some fun games. Impaired simulator goggles will be used to allow students to experience the perspective of someone under the influence and the potentially fatal consequences of alcohol and drug impairment. The goggles will allow students the opportunity to understand the dangers of impaired driving without taking a drop of alcohol or using drugs of any type. Research shows that those who learn from hands-on experience retain two to four times more than those who learn from just listening and/or seeing.
On the following morning, a mock funeral service is held at the High School. The assembly will began with a video of normal school day activities including scenes from the first day of the program and the staged accident. The assembly is hosted by a facilitator who guides the audience through the devastating effects of losing a loved one due to a bad choice. Presenters will include students who will read letters to their parents, parents who will read letters to their children and a Keynote speaker who will speak of their first-hand-experience with the tragic consequences of drinking and driving. The focus of the assembly stresses that the decision to consume alcohol can affect many more people than just the one who drinks. This very emotional and heart-wrenching event illustrates to students, the potentially dangerous consequences of their use of alcohol, regardless of how casual they believe their use may be.
Every 15 Minutes is just another one of the tools we use to get youth to make positive life choices. We create this elaborate display to set the stage for change by exposing them to the “real” experience involved in drunk driving. This exercise is designed to shock students into understanding that life is precious and can be lost in an instant by one poor choice. This program benefits over 3,500 students that attend Los Alamitos High School.
The estimate budget for this program listed on the California Highway Patrols’ website ranges from $20,000-$45,000. The Youth Center has never paid more than $15,000 due to the generous in-kind community support. Every other year we receive a grant in the amount of $9,999 from the California Highway Patrol and the Department of Highway Safety to help us bring this powerful program to our community.