The Missouri Department of Transportation announced a $130,000 grant this month to be given to the Missouri Safe and Sober program. The grant allows any high school to take part in the program free of charge.
The primary purpose of the program is to educate high school and middle school students about the dangers of underage drinking.
Missouri Safe and Sober was founded in 2004 by Kurt Larson, a Springfield-based attorney. He represents people who have been devastated by accidents caused by drunk driving.
Larson asked MoDOT to help expand the program last year.
MoDOT highway safety director Leanna DePue said MoDOT decided to award the grant because of the disastrous consequences impaired driving can have.
“Preventing impaired driving is a key component of highway safety,” DePue said.
The program is under the Mercy Health Foundation Springfield, a Catholic health care system in the U.S. During the program’s existence, it has reached nearly 50,000 students. In 2012 alone, 35 schools participated in the program.
A Mercy Springfield news release stated the goal of awarding the grant is to expand to 150 schools in 2013.
Safe and Sober began nine years ago as a way to bring awareness to teenagers about the dangers of drunk driving during prom and graduation season, according to the news release.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average child will try alcohol for the first time at age 12. Also, young children become addicted to alcohol much more quickly than adults because their brains are still developing.
According to the program’s website, Safe and Sober is a three-part program.
First, a two-fold program for the high school students includes a video on the consequences of underage drinking and a pledge that the students sign promising to remain safe and sober until they are 21 years old.
Then, a parent program teaches the dangers of underage drinking, including alcohol’s affect on the developing brain.
Finally, a middle school program encourages high school students to share the reasons why they signed the sobriety pledge with middle school students.
“Kids start experimenting at much younger ages these days,” Larson said. “The expansion of Safe and Sober will encourage non-drinking high school students to mentor younger kids and show them many high school students do not drink.”
The press release stated each school will be able to customize the program materials to fit their needs, whether in the form of assemblies, docudramas of car crashes, administrator-led programs or any other method.
According to a 2012 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 27 people die every day as a result of drunk driving crashes in America.
“We see the consequences of alcohol use and alcohol-related traumatic injuries in our trauma center every day,” said Mark Peck, Mercy Springfield injury prevention outreach coordinator. “So many of these terrible injuries and deaths can be prevented, and that’s our goal.”
Glendale High School in Springfield has already seen positive results amongst students.
“Safe and Sober has changed our school culture,” principal Matt Pearce said. “Our seniors seek each other out to be part of this program and sign the pledge card to be drug and alcohol free.”