By Gary Walker
An organization forged after a tragedy is now seeking to turn what were sad occasions into a preventive vehicle that it hopes will allow teenagers not to run the same fate as others have.
Gail Schenbaum Lawton, Cheryl Wada and Debbie Barnett all have children who attended funerals of their teenage friends who had died in alcohol, distracted and reckless driving collisions within a two-year period. Those losses helped launch Streetwise Media In One Instant, a nonprofit organization that visits high schools in order to show teenagers how in one instant life can go terribly wrong.
They recently visited Santa Monica High School to illustrate the dangers of driving while intoxicated, distracted or texting.
The program challenges and requires each student to participate and understand the impact their decisions have on family, friends and the community.
At Santa Monica, a crashed car/memorial site was created on campus so students could see the very real consequences of engaging in reckless behavior behind the wheel of a car.
Santa Monica and Venice, places where Westside teens as well as from other areas of Los Angeles flock due to the beach and entertainment opportunities, have high rates of alcohol outlet density, a fact that is not lost on Schenbaum Lawton.
“I had heard that there is a high rate of accidents in Santa Monica,” she said.
The beachside community is eighth among the county’s 117 communities for its alcohol-related accidents.
According to Pew Research Center, texting while driving is at the top of the list as the most common distraction while driving for teens. Last year, over two million injury crashes were reported in the United States involving distracted driving.
At Santa Monica High, 75 percent of 11th graders reported that alcohol is “very easy” or “fairly easy” to get, according to county statistics. Forty-three percent of them said last year that they had a drink within the past 30 days, and 26 percent of the same juniors said they had engaged in binge drinking, which are five or more drinks at once.
Westside Impact Project Manager Sarah Blanch said county surveys have also shown that it is easier for minors to purchase alcohol in Santa Monica and Venice than almost anywhere else on the Westside.
“What we’ve found is that when we see teenage drinking it’s often because in many cases adults enable teens to engage in underage drinking,” Blanch said. “Alcohol at home is the primary access point for teenage drinking.”
In One Instant visited University High School April 18 and plans to introduce its program to other local high schools in the near future.
“We plan to visit (Westchester Enriched Science Magnets) and Venice High School in the fall,” said Schenbaum Lawton.