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County program gets $400K grant to curb underage drinking, traffic deaths

County program gets $400K grant to curb underage drinking, traffic deaths

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

TULARE COUNTY – A Tulare County-based organization dedicated to reversing the trend of underage drinking, smoking, drug use, and traffic safety issues statewide will now have some major funding backing its efforts.

The California Friday Night Live Partnership (CFNLP) announced last month it was awarded a $400,000 grant to support Friday Night Live (FNL) chapters across the state to tackle the issues of underage drinking and traffic safety at the local level. The CFNLP is an organization of the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) that provides state-wide service and support to 50 California counties to assist in successful implementation of Friday Night Live programming.

“We are proud to support the California Friday Night Live Partnership as they work to provide opportunities for leadership, skill development, community engagement, and meaningful relationship building for the young people of California,” says Tim Hire, the recently inaugurated superintendent of schools for the Tulare County Office of Education.

Equipped with the skills and capacity necessary to make real change, and supported by caring adults, FNL youth across California will lead yearlong, multi-faceted, comprehensive campaigns to reduce underage drinking and promote traffic safety in their local communities. FNL youth engaged in this project will assess the communities in which they live to determine which issue they will address and how they will address it. The grant is awarded by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), with funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2010 reveals that the estimated national economic cost of excessive drinking was $249 billion, an average of $2.05 per drink consumed, with the Government footing part of the bill at a cool $100.7 billion. California attributes the largest amount, costing our country over $35 billion, with an average cost per drink of $2.44. Of the total $249 billion, underage drinking specifically accounts for nearly 10 percent of those costs, coming in at $24.3 billion. Furthermore, the CDC estimates that, on average, alcohol is a factor in the deaths of 4,358 young people under age 21 each year, 1,580 of those lives lost in motor vehicle crashes.

Not only does underage drinking cost money and lives, but current scientific research shows that alcohol consumption before the age of 21 is detrimental to the development of the adolescent brain, causing young drinkers to make irresponsible decisions, encounter memory lapses and process information more slowly. Factors that contribute to a young person’s decision to drink alcohol include family, peer and school influences and norms, alcohol advertising and social media exposure to drinking behaviors, as well as youth’s ability to access alcohol within their environments.

Friday Night Live youth work to combat this by implementing various evidence-based, environmental prevention strategies proven to help reduce underage drinking and related costs by changing the environments that make youth alcohol use seem normal and appealing. Grant activities will range from alcohol merchant education campaigns and social host ordinances that reduce young people’s access to alcohol, to positive norms campaigns that attempt to change society’s attitudes and understanding of underage drinking, and Lee Law projects that aim to reduce the amount of youth’s exposure to alcohol advertising in their own neighborhoods.

Projects are enhanced with additional activities like Casey’s Pledge, a pledge to abstain from drinking alcohol before age 21 or riding in a car with an impaired driver; Not on My Watch, a customizable multi-media underage drinking prevention campaign; and In One Instant, a video awareness assembly program. While these efforts specifically aim to prevent underage drinking, we know that reducing the number of underage drinkers will directly affect and reduce the number of alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crashes involving minors.

Traffic safety issues encompass a wide variety of problems that can occur on roadways and involve a range of populations in different ways, including young drivers, senior drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists. One of the most at-risk populations behind the wheel is young, inexperienced drivers.

Motor vehicle crashes remain the No. 1 killer of young people ages 15-24 in America, more than drug and alcohol use combined. A young driver is already at an elevated risk for crashing based on their inexperience on the road; other factors exponentially increase this risk including distractions caused by phones, radios, passengers and more, speeding, not wearing seat belt restraints, drug-and-alcohol-impaired driving, and drowsy driving.

According to NHTSA, research has found that dialing a phone number while driving increases your teen’s risk of crashing by six times, and texting while driving increases the risk by 23 times. Furthermore, another study analyzed by NHTSA, revealed that teen drivers were 2.5 times more likely to engage in one or more potentially risky behaviors when driving with one teenage peer, compared to when driving alone. According to the same study, the likelihood of teen drivers engaging in one or more risky behaviors when traveling with multiple passengers increased to three times compared to when driving alone. In fact, research shows that the risk of a fatal crash goes up in direct relation to the number of teenagers in the car.

As a requirement of the grant, FNL members across the state came together for one hour on Oct. 16, 2018 to survey the streets that surround their schools, specifically looking for instances of distracted driving. With a total of 11,352 distractions observed state-wide, in one-hour an average of 139 distracted drivers drove past California schools that morning. This observational study, known as Roadwatch, is an eye-opener for the young people that participate.

Nadine Shami, a student from Monson-Sultana School in Tulare County, said, “I learned that distracted driving is very dangerous.  The simplest things like eating, drinking, reaching for something and checking your phone, can cause a crash.”

In 2017, Tulare County students compiled startling statistics from among thousands of vehicles they observed with both attentive and distracted drivers.  Distractions during this learning-focused Roadwatch ranged from the all-too-typical hand-held use of a cellphone to the less-often-observed kissing, eating with utensils and using a tablet. Each distraction observed is highly dangerous and 100% avoidable.

In Tulare County, distracted drivers are much more prevalent than the rest of the state. Four sites were surveyed in Tulare County in each of the three cities that make up the most densely populated areas in Visalia, Tulare and Porterville. The number of people using a hand-held device while driving past a school was 8% compared with a state average of just 1%.

“This isn’t just about giving young people permission to change their communities,” says Lynne Goodwin, CFNLP Program Director, “but about giving them the skills, knowledge, support and opportunities that they need to make real, lasting impact around issues that are important to them.”

Friday Night Live builds partnerships for positive and healthy youth development which engage youth as active leaders and resources in their community. For more information about the Friday Night Live, visit fridaynightlive.org.

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