Teens driving under the influence has affected many families here in central Illinois. But in one county, community members have gotten involved to combat the statistics.
Kate Legge, Tazewell County Assistant State’s Attorney, says, “Once every 3 days, there’s a DUI crash in Tazewell County.”
The Tazewell Teen Initiative delivered new sobering statistics in its continued effort to stop teenagers from driving under the influence. The initiative began in 2006 after 15 teenagers were killed in car accidents within a 15 month period. They did not all involve drinking or drug use, but the losses were enough to inspire the Coalition.
And the program does seem to have made an impact.
The numbers of high school seniors who self-report drunk driving in the anonymous Illinois Youth Survey has decreased 64% since 2006.
Contrary to popular belief, though, a DUI is not exclusive to alcohol use.
Legge says, “I talk to people who come in for a DUI, and they say, ‘Oh, well I didn’t know I could get a DUI for marijuana,’ or ‘I didn’t know driving high was a DUI too.’”
While more students use alcohol than marijuana or prescription drugs overall, only 10% say they have driven under the influence of alcohol in the past year.
Yet, there is a combined 15% of high school students who have driven under the influence of marijuana and prescription drugs.
Jody Heavilin, a Health Educator with the Tazewell County Health Department, says “We have more Tazewell County teens that drive under the influence of marijuana than we do alcohol, because they don’t see a harm in it.”
The teen initiative has implemented controlled party dispersals, roadside sobriety checkpoints and social marketing to connect with the students. Coalition members also remind the community of the positive stats of this study.
Heavilin says “If you’re not using, you’re in the majority. And we appreciate you not using.”
We also talked with Pekin's District 303 Superintendent today, who says while the Coalition is making strides, there is always work to do until the numbers are down to zero.