Macon County Chronicle

Sheriffs Department Warns Teens on Dangers of Drinking & Driving

Three years ago, when Macon County Sheriff Mark Gammons took office, he made it the department’s mission to educate local teens on the dangers, and life-altering effects, of drinking and driving by illustrating the consequences in a realistic ‘drinking and driving wreck scene,’ presented to juniors and seniors just in time for prom.

This year’s staging will be held in the Macon County Junior High School auditorium at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, April 30, for upperclassmen from both Macon County and Red Boiling Springs High Schools, and will also include a skit performed by seniors from both schools.

Following the student program, a second presentation will be made to the public at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 1, in the Macon County High School auditorium.

Free of charge, the evening program is open to anyone who wishes to attend and will run for approximately an hour and a half.

During the intermission, guests will also be invited to experience the effects of drinking and driving by wearing ‘DUI goggles’ and driving a golf cart through a series of traffic cones.

While the presentation has ran for the past three years, this year’s program will be the first time both high schools will be attending together and will also mark the introduction of a skit.

The skit, which will portray teens driving under the influence of alcohol and narcotics, not only gives high school students a chance to understand how drinking and driving could ruin their lives, but also sets a good example of senior classes working together to get a positive message across to fellow students and the public.

“The Director of Schools Darrel Law and I, wanted to bring the county’s seniors together this year,” Sheriff Gammons said. “We want them to see what could happen, what has happened to teens who put their safety and the safety of others in jeopardy by drinking and driving.”

Since the program’s beginning three years ago, Sheriff Gammons says the number of teen related drinking and driving incidents have decreased in Macon County, a sign that he believes indicates the impact of the presentation.

“I wish we could keep kids from drinking alcohol or even getting a hold of it,” he remarked. “But if we can’t, we can sure do our best to try and stop them from making the decision to get behind the wheel.”

Assisting the Sheriffs Department with the program are the Lafayette and Red Boiling Springs Rescue Squads, Life Flight, Macon County EMS & Ambulance Service and local funeral homes.

“We have a great deal of love and care for our youth,” the Sheriff explained. “We have great kids here in Macon County and anything we can do to stray them away from drinking and driving, we want to play a big role in doing that.”

Sheriff Gammons also stressed that teens who find themselves in a situation where they don’t feel comfortable riding with someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or they themselves question if they should get behind the wheel, to call a parent or the Macon County Sheriffs Department.

“It’s not worth it,” he said. “It’s not worth the price of a life, to take the risk of getting in a vehicle with someone who’s been drinking or to drink and drive. When you find yourself in either position, please feel free to call my office and ask for help.”

While many parents may feel their child would make a responsible decision when faced with either situation, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of youth deaths, aged 15 to 20 years old and notes that 23 percent of teenage drivers in fatal car wrecks possessed a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit of .08.

In the United States, 12.8 percent of all fatal traffic crashes are alcohol-related, and 40 percent of that number involves teens driving while drinking alcohol.

Underage drinking itself is widespread in Tennessee, with approximately 243,000 underage youth in Tennessee consuming alcohol each year.  In 2005, according to self-reports by Tennessee students in grades 9-12:  

• 75% had at least one drink of alcohol on one or more days during their life.

• 24% had their first drink of alcohol, other than a few sips, before age 13.

• 42% had at least one drink of alcohol on one or more occasion in the past 30 days.

• 25% had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row (i.e. binge drinking) in the past 30 days.

• 4% had at least one drink of alcohol on school property on one or more of the past 30 days.

While many Tennesseans who aren’t raising teenagers may think underage drinking doesn’t directly affect them, the underage consumption of alcohol cost the citizens of Tennessee $1.4 billion in 2005.  These costs include medical care, work loss, and pain and suffering associated with the multiple problems resulting from the use of alcohol by youth. This translates to a cost of $2,545 per year for each youth in the State.  

Alarmingly, Tennessee ranks 7th highest among the 50 states for the cost per youth of underage drinking.

For more information on the student or public Drinking & Driving program presentations, contact the Macon County Sheriffs Department at 666-3325.