Although driving under the influence is illegal, more than 9,000 people were arrested in 2010 in South Dakota, according to the Department of Public Safety. To combat drunk driving, April is Parents Matter month. Throughout the month, parents are encouraged to talk about the dangers of drunk driving with their children.
Darcy Jensen is the Parents Matter program coordinator. Jensen said the group chose April to spread the word about drunk driving because April and May have the highest rates for alcohol-related fatal crashes.
“Some of the importance with teens is to identify the high risk areas where there might be more use,” Jensen said.
April and May are usually the months when high schools hold prom and graduation. According to a poll conducted by ORC Guideline for Liberty Mutual and Students Against Destructive Decisions, 90 percent of students think their peers will drink on prom night, and 79 percent think they will on graduation.
“Drinking and driving is an absolutely ridiculous decision that a lot of teenagers make because it is easy,” University of South Dakota first-year Cienna Boylan said. “If you decide to go out and drink alcohol, you should have managed to find a sober driver before you decided to go out.”
First-year Nicole Plueger said she’s seen drunk driving as a result of peer pressure.
“During this age in our lives, there is a lot of peer pressure, and because of lack of maturity, it is easy to give into what our friends and peers want,” Plueger said.
As part of Parents Matter month, Plueger said her parents were open about the subject and made sure she understood the consequences.
“My parents talked to me about drinking in general when I first started high school,” Plueger said. “I am very grateful they talked to me because it stopped me from making irresponsible decisions after I had been drinking.”
Jensen said a lot of parents aren’t sure how to talk with their children about drinking and driving, which is why she helped start the initiative.
“Parents often don’t know how to talk or communicate clearly,” Jensen said. “Research shows that kids don’t want to disappoint their parents. It makes a big difference in underage drinking if parents do have the talk because parents do matter and parents can make a difference.”
Drunk driving is something many students don’t worry about until it personally affects them, Boylan said. Students don’t think it’ll ever happen to them, which is why many take the chance and drive after drinking, she said.
“My great aunt was hit by a drunk driver years ago and passed away,” Boylan said. “My great grandma was then a part of MADD (Mothers against drunk driving) for about 30 years. Some of the stories that I have heard about people and drunk driving are horrendous, and the majority of the time, the drunk driver lives while the innocent, sober victims that were hit pass away.”
With all the trouble drinking and driving causes, Plueger said it is important that drunk driving awareness exists not only during April, but all the time.
“This may be the month when parents should talk to their children about drinking and driving, but I think it doesn’t matter when they talk about it, as long as they get the point across,” Plueger said.
Boylan said students should think about the consequences of drunk driving this month and hopefully it’ll stop them from doing it in the future.
“Under no circumstances should a person’s life be in danger from another’s irresponsible decision,” Boylan said. “Drunk driving should be put to an end. It is as simple as that.”
Jensen said since Parents Matter started in 2007, she’s seen the amount of teenagers affected by drunk driving decrease.
“Our campaign is having an impact and we’re really trying to start outreach programs across the state,” Jensen said.
Reach reporter Nicole Gibson at Nicole.Gibson@usd.edu.