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Temptation high for drunk driving in prom, grad season

When it comes to teens and drunk driving, it’s good news-bad news.

• The good news is that teen drunk driving nationwide is down by 54% since 1991, according to an October report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

• The bad news is that car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, and about a third of those are alcohol related, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

As prom and graduation season approaches, parents’ drunk-driving fears escalate and schools’ activism against such activity increases. Though teens continue to be the ultimate decision-makers in their own safety, it doesn’t keep parents from waiting up at night.

Sharing the message

Not every child makes it home safe. And only some live to tell about it.

Phaedra Marriott-Olsen is one who survived.

The night a drunk driver hit her head-on was like many other spring evenings. She stopped at a pizza place with friends and then headed to hear some music. When she got in the car to head home, she said she had not a drop of alcohol or drugs in her system.

But the driver that hit her was did.

At 22 years old, she was paralyzed.

Now nearly 40, the Ashland City, Tenn., mom has spent almost half her life in a wheelchair because of someone else’s decision to drink and drive.

“Tragedy does happen when we least expect it,” Marriott-Olsen said.

That message is one she now shares with students across Tennessee as part of Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s Power of Parents and Power of Youth programs. In April, she will speak to more than 5,000 students, talking not only about the dangers of drinking and driving but also texting and driving and the importance of wearing a seat belt.

“It’s a high time of teen drinking around these celebrations,” Marriott-Olsen said of prom and graduation.

When she speaks, she gets a lot of tears. When she asks students if they know someone who has driven drunk, almost every hand in the room comes up. And almost all of them know someone who has been affected by that decision.

The job now is to turn tragedy into triumph, Marriott-Olsen said.

“I want them to feel encouraged and motivated,” she said.

“There are so many things we can’t change in our lives — the color of our skin, who our parents are,” but teenagers can change how they make decisions, she said.

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