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Just about everyone knows someone who has been bullied, in ways big and small. Understandably, though, many victims are reluctant to speak about their experiences. We found some who aren't.
*Click here to read our Q and A with a cop about texting while driving. He says: "Don't do it. You could die."
By Mina Asayesh-Brown, St. Petersburg High
When she was 16, Alex Chamberlain went to a concert with a friend. She didn’t see him drink more than one beer. After the show, he asked her what her curfew was. He was concerned about getting her home on time. His behavior seemed normal and, as he drove her home, he appeared to be sober. Until he took a turn onto 22nd Avenue from Fourth Street and went up on the median, nearly hitting a tree and a speed limit sign.
At the time, Chamberlain thought her friend had simply taken his eyes off the road for a second — something that could have happened to anyone. Still, “it was terrifying,” she said.
She made it home safely. The next day, her friend told her he “was hammered” that night.
Chamberlain, now 17 and a senior at St. Petersburg High, is not alone in her experience. According to a national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control in 2007, nearly three out of 10 teens reported that in the past month they had ridden in a car with a driver who had been drinking, and one in 10 reported having driven after drinking.
“It’s surprisingly common,” said Zoe Green, 18, a St. Petersburg High senior and the co-president of the school’s chapter of SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions). Green estimates that roughly a quarter of her friends drink and drive, and she knows plenty of people outside her peer group who do it as well. “I thought if I got involved (with SADD) I could help my friends,” she said.
However, the issue of drinking and driving goes far beyond SADD . In an informal survey of St. Petersburg High students for this story, nearly every student has been affected.
Senior Allie Coad is strongly against drinking and driving, though she has many friends who do it. But keeping your friends from driving when they’re under the influence of alcohol is not an easy task.
“Once you get into that situation, it’s very difficult to get yourself out of it,” said Chamberlain. “I have taken keys before, but it’s a scene and they fight it, because they’re drunk and they’re stupid.”
Coad has a different solution for when she and her friends go out: She’s a frequent designated driver. “I’ve literally driven every one of my friends’ cars (when they have been drunk),” said Coad, 18. Green has done the same, and she has also arranged rides for people at parties. “Don’t be scared to take control, because they don’t know what they’re doing and they’ll thank you for it later,” she said.
What drives teens to drink and drive?
Though teen drinking trends have decreased over the last decade according to the Century Council, an organization working to combat underage drinking supported by the distiller industry, underage drinking is still considerably prevalent. So is underage drinking and driving. What compels teens to do so, and what makes it okay to them? The answers are numerous and varied.
Some, such as Hunter, an SPHS junior who asked that we not use his last name, believe knowing your limits is the key.
“It definitely makes a big difference,” said Hunter, 17. “If you’re responsible enough with (drinking and driving) and you know you’re not gonna get in trouble … go by your own judgments.”
Hunter has been driving for about a year and a half. He was once pulled over for not having his lights on, and though he had been drinking, he was let go. Still, Hunter maintains that he doesn’t drive drunk, unless it’s “a predicament where I have to, which is rare. Maybe once a month.” For Hunter and others, the distinction between driving drunk and driving after a few drinks is an important one.
“I don’t see casual drinking and driving as a big deal. If you’re under the legal limit, I think it’s fine … but if you’re getting smashed it’s not a good idea,” said senior Daniel Lindsay, 18. Lindsay has also had a close call when riding with a friend who had been drinking. “They had construction (on Fourth) and the cones were confusing. He was swerving, and he would have gone into oncoming traffic (had there been any).”
Lindsay said he thinks teens drive after drinking because they have no other options. Senior Aaron Hoyt agrees. “(It’s all about) trying to get home on time,” said Hoyt, 17.
Both Hoyt and Lindsay admit to having friends who drink and drive. “Probably 90 percent of my friends have” driven after drinking, said Lindsay.
Another explanation is the simple fact that alcohol affects judgment. “Once someone starts drinking, their judgment is impaired, and it seems crazy but the more they drink the more they feel it’s okay, to a certain extent,” said senior Karileigh Williams, 17. Williams, like Hoyt and Lindsay, knows many people who drink and drive. Green believes part of the problem is people thinking that the more often they drink and drive, the better they get at it. “You can’t be good at it,” she said. “The more times you do it, the (higher) chance you have of crashing.”
Why are teens drinking?
As long as there have been laws restricting alcohol consumption, people under the legal drinking age have been able to get around them. Lindsay says there are four main ways teens get access to alcohol . “They have a fake ID, their siblings or parents buy it (for them), someone sells it to them illegally or they steal it.”
Some parents provide the booze at home, teens say, because they’d rather have their kids drinking under supervision.
It’s not just teens
While teenagers are often the main targets of criticism due to their high collision rates, of course, they are not the only ones who drink and drive. “I feel like a lot of people are cracking down on teenagers. But adults do it, too,” senior Carlynn Crosby said. Crosby, 18, once rode with an adult who had been drinking all day and had two open beer cans in the front seat, as well as a 12-pack in the back. When a police officer pulled them over, the driver told her to stuff the beer cans under the seat while the backseat passengers covered the 12-pack with their jackets. “The scary part is,” said Crosby, “he got away with it.”
“(When you ride with an adult who has been drinking), you’re always afraid you’re going to get in an accident. Every time he swerves, (you’re thinking) is he going to be able to fix it and straighten out? You’re always poised to grab the wheel, to handle the situation as best you can.”
Much of Crosby’s opposition to drinking and driving comes from the fear she has experienced as a passenger riding with a drunken driver. “If you’re the driver and you don’t care about your life, fine. But at least have the decency to care about your passenger’s life,” she said.
The reality: People will drink and drive
Regardless of the reason or driver’s age, drinking and driving accounted for almost one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the United States in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“People do it. People aren’t gonna stop,” said Williams. “(That) doesn’t make it okay.”
Williams and other students are finding ways of dealing with this reality. Green carries out her duties as SADD co-president at school and at parties. Crosby often offers to drive if she is with an inebriated adult or friend. Chamberlain plans ahead: “I usually get a big tea or an Arnold Palmer or something to take to parties (if I’m driving) because then people don’t bother me about not having a drink in my hand.” If he plans on drinking a lot, Hunter calls his mother or his sister to come pick him up. “Your parents will not be mad at you if you call them to come get you,” he said.
Despite this, and despite her harrowing experience after that concert, Chamberlain doesn’t consider teens who drink and drive to have cruel intentions. “I don’t think it’s particularly malicious,” she said. “I really think it’s just teenagers thinking they are indestructible.”