Young CCS students taught the importance of impaired driving awareness

The MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Canada SmartWheels Campaign brought its message of alcohol and drug awareness to CCS on January 21.

Shawna Leson, who applied for and arranged the presentation, said there were a total of four sessions for the Grade 5A and B classes and the Grade 6A and B classes, which were led by Darren Chetana, MADD Canada facilitator. Chetana said he thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the CCS students.

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“It’s a wild ride, these kids are awesome,” he said. “At this age they are very straightforward and generally tell you what they think in an uncomplicated way. It was my pleasure to talk to them about impaired driving awareness, also in an uncomplicated way.”

According to MADD Canada information provided to the students by Chetana, “It’s never too early to teach our youth about the dangers of impaired driving and getting in a vehicle with an impaired driver.”

SmartWheels raises students’ awareness about the risks of alcohol and drugs before they are exposed to them, influences responsible decision making and teaches safety strategies. Achieving these outcomes will result in better informed youth who are significantly more likely to make positive, responsible decisions, “resulting in fewer injuries and deaths among our most vulnerable road users.”

Studies show that the use of alcohol and cannabis starts as early as age 11 and that use increases steadily between Grades 7 to 9, continued the information. Before students even reach high school and begin to drive, many are already exposed to or participating in risky behaviours that could lead to impaired driving, among other harmful consequences, in later years.

Traffic crashes remain by far the largest single cause of death among 16 to 25 year olds. Amongst this age group, almost 56 per cent of all motor vehicle fatalities are alcohol and/or drug-related. While young people are significantly overrepresented in alcohol-related deaths as drivers, they are overrepresented to an even greater extent as passengers. The problem of impaired driving among youth in Canada is very real.

The SmartWheels program was delivered to CCS students in a leading edge fully equipped mobile RV. On-screen video hosts introduce short video clips throughout the hour-long presentation that describe the effects of alcohol and cannabis on developing brains and bodies and discusses impaired driving consequences.

Students use individual tablets to respond to questions to reinforce the material covered. Students also participate in “choose your own adventure”-style decision-making scenarios using individual tablets. The outcome of each scenario depends on the individual student’s answers. Students then put on virtual reality goggles and see how it looks and feels to drive while impaired by drugs or alcohol. They also see the personal story of one young victim of impaired driving.

After experiencing the virtual reality goggle exercise, one Grade 5 student remarked, “I felt like I was actually in the car.”

Chetana encouraged the students to be proactive if they ever find themselves in a difficult situation involving drugs and/or alcohol, including never getting in a vehicle with someone who is impaired. Possible signs of impairment include:

  • Swerving on the road, crossing over the line
  • Stumbling or weaving when they walk
  • Slurring their words
  • Smell alcohol or cannabis on them
  • Red and/or glassy eyes
  • Concentration problems

Suggestions for what to do if there is evidence that a driver is impaired include:

  • Call 911
  • Call a parent/caregiver or a trusted adult
  • If you are in the car with them ask them to pull over

If a person has no other choice but driving with a possibly impaired driver:

  • Sit in the back seat
  • Buckle up your seat belt tightly
  • Take everything off the seat and the back window shelf and put it on the floor under your feet or under the front seat
  • Be quiet and try not to distract the driver
  • Tell a trusted adult immediately about the unsafe ride after it is over.

Chetana encouraged the students to find ways to be proactive when it comes to impaired driving awareness in their day-to-day lives.

“Take what you have learned today and talk about it to your parents, siblings and friends,” he said. “Be a part of the smart generation that does not drive impaired.”

Leson said the sessions were effective for a variety of reasons.

“The presentation was delivered by a dynamic, well-informed facilitator who kept the students on task and completely engaged,” she said. “The mobile classroom is modern, self-contained and in my opinion, it provided the students with the perspective and empowering ideas and insight into how, even though they are young, they can make a difference.

“When the students were asked if they have any responsibility to deal with the problem of impaired driving-related incidents, most of them answered “no” because they are not of driving age. However, when this was discussed, it was explained to them that they have the right and responsibility to refuse to travel with an impaired driver and the obligation to encourage a driver to choose alternate transportation.”

Members of the CCS SADD (Students Against Drinking and Driving) chapter were on hand to help with the presentations throughout the day.

“Students from Grades 5 to 12 are welcome to be SADD members,” said Leson. “Most of the 12 executive members are in Grade 10. Ideally, we would love for every student in our school to consider themselves a SADD member.”

Leson said the continued support of CCS is very much appreciated.

“The staff at CCS is always so supportive and willing to assist with any SADD awareness activities. SADD and MADD are on the same team,” she said. “We greatly appreciate their support; with it we can continue to bring in presenters as amazing as this one!”