Boosters of a six-year-old campaign designed to battle drunken driving among teenagers during prom and graduation season say that the program has helped save lives in South Dakota.
Darcy Jensen, head of Prairie View Prevention Services, said Lincoln County hasn’t had an alcohol-related traffic fatality since 2006, and there was only one last year in Minnehaha County.
Jensen says the numbers point to success of the “Parents Matter” campaign, which uses about $200,000 in Department of Public Safety money each year to produce a series of radio and television ads aimed at encouraging parents to talk to their teens about drinking and driving.
The information produced each spring is distributed throughout school districts in the state as well.
In 2005, the year before Parents Matter began, there were 13 alcohol-related fatalities in Lincoln and Minnehaha counties.
“We think (the change is) because of parents sitting down and talking to their kids,” Jensen said.
This year’s theme, announced last month at the Law Enforcement Center in Sioux Falls, is
Have the Talk.” Ads in the past have used testimonials from parents who lost children and young people who survived alcohol-related crashes but sustained debilitating injuries.
This year’s ads feature two parents who explain how they began conversations about drinking with their own children.
Surveys taken of South Dakota youth as part of the marketing push showed that 42 percent of teens who were given a zero-tolerance message by their parents abstained from using alcohol altogether, Jensen said.
Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead appears in the ad campaign as well and spoke at the campaign kickoff.
“We know that parents play a vital role in the safety of their children,” he said.
Tom Lorang, superintendent of Sioux Falls Catholic Schools, said he’s been impressed with the campaign’s results, crediting the personal stories attached to the ads. He has been looking for ways to deal with the issue of teen drinking since 1971.
“Sometimes it feels like you’re shooting a BB gun against a steel wall, but we’ve been pleased,” Lorang said.
Every public school district in South Dakota will use the materials this year, Jensen said.
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