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Carbondale students watch mock DUI ahead of prom to deter drunk driving, but the message is expected

Eight emergency agencies in the Roaring Fork Valley collaborated to conduct a “mock DUI” on April 26 to deter Roaring Fork High School students from drinking and driving during prom.
Halle Zander
/
Aspen Public Radio
Eight emergency agencies in the Roaring Fork Valley collaborated to conduct a “mock DUI” on April 26 to deter Roaring Fork High School students from drinking and driving during prom.

Prom season is here, and the big night is a rite of passage for many high schoolers nationwide. Some students celebrate by drinking alcohol or doing drugs, but the consequences can be devastating if they get behind the wheel.

As part of a mock DUI event on April 26, Carbondale Fire and other emergency agencies in the region worked together to show Roaring Fork High School students how they respond to car crashes, in an attempt to deter students from driving while intoxicated.

The junior and senior classes gathered in their school parking lot, about 100 feet away from a fake crash scene.

Half a dozen emergency vehicles were on the scene surrounding two mangled cars. Student volunteers from an emergency medical responder class are covered in fake blood and littered across the scene, one with half his body hanging out a front windshield. A helicopter flew around the scenario before landing and flying off with one of the fake patients.

Kailei Gianinetti, a senior at Roaring Fork High School, said it was disturbing.

“It makes us anxious, and it makes us feel nauseous to see the kid being covered up with the white sheet, because you’re thinking ‘that could be your friend,’” Gianietti said. “That's one of our people, you know?”

Carly Debeque, a trauma program manager for Valley View Hospital, helped organize the scenario. She hopes the event will encourage students to develop a plan for prom ahead of time with a parent, family friend or other trusted adult.

“If they find themselves in a situation that could be unsafe, they can call that person,” DeBeque said. “Because I can guarantee that those people would prefer the call from them than us.”

After students watched the scene unfold in the parking lot, they went indoors to watch an emotional video depicting what happens to some of the victims from the scenario once they got to the hospital.

When one of the students dies, a doctor demonstrates what it’s like to tell his mother. The student who played the drunken driver is then booked in the Garfield County Jail.

Student volunteers wore fake blood and pretended to be injured during a mock DUI at Roaring Fork High School on April 26.
Halle Zander
/
Aspen Public Radio
Student volunteers wore fake blood and pretended to be injured during a mock DUI at Roaring Fork High School on April 26.

Serious stakes

A student in the Roaring Fork School District died in a car crash in 2019 that was caused by a drunken driver, so families and teachers understand the consequences of ignoring the issue of teens drinking and driving.

But while the Mock DUI elicited a strong reaction from some students, others in the crowd were laughing.

When asked if they thought the mock DUI was effective, student reactions were mixed.

“I think it doesn't feel realistic enough … because we're not as close or because it's not entirely real, so the [message] to be entirely safe isn't really sticking,” Candace Samora, Roaring Fork High School junior said.

“Obviously I've never seen this situation go down,” Gianinetti said. “So seeing a rendition of it right in front of you is scary. It puts you in that situation. You're like, ‘Oh my gosh … this could be real.'”

Briston Grimm, a junior at Roaring Fork High School, said, “It sucks that it was fake and how people were laughing about it just because they knew the actors. But I think it's a super real thing that people do all the time, especially in high school, and don't understand. Your actions affect others.”

Some of the first responders acknowledged that, generally, these kinds of interventions are limited in their effectiveness.

While students may say that mock DUIs make them less likely to drink and drive, studies show that tends to wane over time, and the research does not prove that these scenarios change behavior long term.

Firefighters managing this scenario said this means they have to continue to share these messages with students regularly, but DeBeque acknowledged that the images can be intense for students.

“As a trauma nurse, we tend to kind of compartmentalize things,” DeBeque said. “We understand that this is a highly charged, emotionally charged, situation.”

Counselors were on site to support students who were struggling with the content of the scenario. To make the mock DUI accessible for more schools in the region, Carbondale Fire filmed the event so it can be shown before special events, like prom and graduation, for years.

The Carbondale Police Department said they did not receive any calls related to prom or the after parties on Saturday night and that it appears to have been a safe celebration.

For communities interested in other evidence-based solutions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a number of proven strategies to reduce impaired driving, such as sobriety checkpoints or addiction screenings.

Copyright 2024 Aspen Public Radio

Halle Zander