By Officer Chad Moen,
School Resource Officer at North High School
On July 6, 2012 Aaron, Allison and Brielle Deutscher were driving to Bismarck for a family reunion. A drunk driver going the wrong way on I-94 crashed head-on with the Deutscher family, killing all involved instantly. The wrecked Deutscher vehicle has since been turned into a traveling display to educate people on the dangers of drunk driving, thanks to the Deutschers’ relatives, the Safe Communities Coalition, and AAA. I had the opportunity to bring this display to Fargo North last month for all of our students to see.
With me that day was Lynn Mickelson, father of Allison Deutscher. We spoke to Marcene Malusky’s ninth grade health classes about alcohol and the dangers of drunk driving. Hearing Mr. Mickelson speak about the loss of his family and seeing the vehicle they were driving in had a great impact on the students. The health class students wrote letters to Mr. Mickelson thanking him for sharing this story. I had a chance to read these letters and was very impressed with the heartfelt messages and the students’ promises not to drink and drive.
Members of Fargo North’s SADD organization (Students Against Destructive Decisions) helped out at the crash display and all week by encouraging their peers to make smart decisions, and gave out Spartan wristbands to any student who signed a pledge to make smart decisions regarding alcohol use.
In part due to this tragedy and the efforts of the Deutschers’ relatives, North Dakota has implemented stronger Driving Under the Influence (DUI) laws. In a recent FargoSchoolTalk blog post, Ben Franklin SRO Dane Hjelden covered these new laws. The stronger penalties are a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to prevent DUI’s—and that’s where parents play a very influential role.
Schools, police departments and public service announcements try hard to educate people on the dangers of alcohol and drunk driving, but teens are more likely to be influenced by their parents. We need to go beyond simply telling our teens that drunk driving is bad and illegal. Parents need to educate their teens on possible consequences of drunk driving and let them know this is a lifetime lesson, not something to forget when they turn the legal drinking age of 21.
Drinking and driving can lead to being arrested, but explain to your child/teen/young adult what other penalties are ahead:
- You will lose your driver’s license. For a juvenile, the license is cancelled, and must be earned back.
- There will be fines associated and programs you must participate in.
- You may be required to go to the jail twice a day to give a breath sample. Each test costs money and it won’t be easy to get there now that you’ve lost your driving privileges.
- Once you do get your license back, your insurance costs will probably triple. Yes, triple.
- You can be fired from certain jobs or have difficulty getting to and from work without a valid license.
Good parenting goes beyond telling teens what they can’t do; you also need to empower them with choices of what they CAN do:
- Rather than get in the car with someone who has been drinking, you can call a cab, Mom or Dad, or a friend.
- If you’re of legal drinking age, assign a designated driver. Make that assignment before you go out, because even a couple of drinks affect your decision making.
- If you don’t trust yourself not to drive home, don’t drive to the bar/party in the first place. Have someone drop you off, take a cab or public transportation there in the first place—then you won’t have the temptation to drive home after drinking.
Remember, for anyone under the age of 21, these penalties start with a blood alcohol level of .02 percent, not the adult level of .08 percent You will often hear this law referred to as zero tolerance, since you can be arrested for DUI after consuming as little as one serving of alcohol.
Because teens are still developing, they take more risks with alcohol. They act impulsively and don’t recognize that their actions while under the influence of alcohol can have serious consequences. Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens (ages 15 to 20) and nearly one-third of teen traffic deaths are alcohol related.
Parents, have this conversation with your son/daughter more than once. There are plenty of good opportunities for this conversation, such as when they start high school, when they or their friends start driving, prior to Homecoming, prom or graduation, at the beginning of senior year, when they leave for college, or when they move out of the house.
As the Deutscher crash display illustrates, the greatest risk of drinking and driving isn’t that you may get arrested. It’s that people are hurt and killed by drunk drivers every day. The sad reality is that all of these casualties are 100% preventable. Parents, please do your part by giving clear expectations to your child when it comes to drinking and driving and the use of alcohol.