Every 15 Minutes program serves community well

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About 30 to 40 years ago society didn’t take drunken driving seriously.

And then folks started to realize the kind of emotional pain and physical carnage resulting from people intoxicated by alcohol and/or drugs getting behind the wheel of a car. The family members and friends of those killed by drunken drivers passionately campaigned to reduce drunken driving and drunken-driving deaths.

A tremendous amount of progress has been made nationally, and in this community, reducing drunken-driving fatalities. Most people understand the life-or-death consequences of drinking and driving.

That’s come from advocates constantly reminding people through programs such as Every 15 Minutes, described on the program’s website as an “event designed to dramatically instill teenagers with the potentially dangerous consequences of drinking alcohol and texting while driving.”

The program has been offered in Walla Walla for the past 17 years with great success.

“Students listen. We have had no traffic fatalities involving current high school students, since the inception of the program,” said Walla Walla Police Officer Tim Bennett, who serves as the local law enforcement liaison to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

Unfortunately, the Grim Reaper could come calling for the Every 15 Minutes program in the near future. Bennett said the Traffic Safety/DUI Task Force manager position, funded through the county Department of Human Services, is slated to be a victim of budget cuts.

This year could be the last for the program, Bennett said in the U-B’s Etc. column published Thursday.

That’s very unfortunate for this community and its teenage drivers. Nobody can say for sure whether death or injury has been prevented because of this program, but it stands to reason that’s the case. More than 12,000 students and their families have been touched by Every 15 Minutes over the past 17 years.

This is a powerful program that helps students connect the senseless DUI deaths to real people. At a time interval mirroring the actual DUI death rate — that was every 52 minutes this year — a student “dies.”

“The message is simple and clear — ‘Don’t get behind the wheel if you have been drinking; don’t accept a ride with a drinking driver; and do what you can to prevent others from drinking and driving,’” Bennett said.

Still, it takes people and money to get that simple and clear message out. The fiscal trouble at county Department of Human Services might be too large to overcome, but perhaps funding through grants or other means could be found.

The end of this excellent program would be very sad for Walla Walla.

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