December 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 6 // Ideas at Work // 6IAW2

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Teen Safety Docu-Drama

Teen Safety Docu-Dramas have been initiated in several Ohio counties in response to growing concern of youth traffic safety. Students from local high schools assemble in a central location to witness a dynamic and life-like "mock crash," complete with make-up and costumes, emergency response units, and life flight. Collaborative groups of Extension staff and other key community leaders work together with over 100 professionals and volunteers to plan, organize, and conduct the event for audiences of 1000 to 1700 students. Ohio State Patrol statistics in two counties show a decrease in fatalities and fewer alcohol-related accidents among 16-19 year olds.

Barbara A. Brahm
Extension Agent
Family and Consumer Sciences & Community Development
Ohio State University Extension
Hancock County
Findlay, Ohio
Internet address:

Richard H. Collins
Staff Lieutenant, Operations/Inspections
Ohio State Highway Patrol
Columbus, Ohio

Judy Villard
Extension Agent
4-H Youth Development
Ohio State University Extension
Richland County
Mansfield, Ohio

It was supposed to be the greatest night of their life, but...CRASH!! In just seconds the car metal was deformed, the windshield shattered and human bodies mangled. The smell of alcohol filled the air. Some of the passengers' cries were loud screams, while others were short-lived moans. A call was made to 911 and the wait for help seemed endless. Rescue and law enforcement units, plus the Life Flight crew, worked diligently.

The coroner and chaplain were summoned and parents were notified. The result? Loss of life, critically and permanently injured youth and the question:.why did it happen? More than 1500 high school juniors and seniors sat in a grandstand watching their peers in this nightmare. The action wasn't real, but it could have been. The message: "seeing is believing!"

Traffic safety is a youth development issue that is growing in concern across the United States. With the fact that vehicular accidents are the number one cause of death for youth ages 16-20 years, creative prevention efforts have become an increasingly important role in reaching these youth.

After seeing creative safety education programming receive recognition at the National Youth Safety Congress, the Richland County 4-H staff developed a new programming idea for Extension. The program was a mock crash, safety docu-drama, which utilized local resources in a network with Extension offices; similar projects have been implemented across Ohio as an annual or bienniel event.

The purpose of the safety docu-drama is to help teens make better decisions for their lives and the lives of others. The areas of drinking and driving, wearing safety belts and driving responsibly are focus areas of the program because of shocking statistics taken from Ohio Department of Highway Safety records. In 1992, a total of 222 motorists aged 16-20 died in traffic crashes. Of these deaths, 76 or 34% were alcohol-related. Of the 1,052 people who died in motor vehicle crashes (all ages) with safety belts available, 769 or 73% were not buckled in a safety belt.

Organizing A Docu-Drama

Planning a safety docu-drama requires at least four to six months of planning (at least January for an April or May event). With Extension's leadership, a collaboration of law enforcement officials, emergency rescue units, school administrators, community/business leaders and youth form the event's planning coommittee. This committee meets regularly to plan the crash site lay-out, rescue response procedure, victim assignments and injuries, school contacts/follow-up, sponsor support needs, and media/publicity promotion.

Volunteers are secured to serve as victims (4-H Junior Leaders and student actors in Hancock County or Youth Safety Council members in Richland County), parents, and the 911 callers. Each member of the collaborative offers their expertise, background, and personal interest to make the scenario and total event come together.

It takes many people to create a docu-drama. One county had 57 agencies, organizations and businesses involved as donors just for one year. More than 100 individuals are usually involved on the day of the program. Donations include cash, professional time, use of facilities, educational materials, emergency and related equipment, meals, videotaping and photography services, prom flowers and dresses, tuxes, make-up, and various other services. In addition to actors and emergency personnel, volunteers are used to park buses, maintain crowd control, and attend to a variety of details to pull the production together. A thank-you or appreciation luncheon is held by most counties immediately or soon after the program.

Expenses for the docu-drama include a public address system, one-day insurance for all students attending, transportation of students, props, video and photography supplies, and meals for the practice session and appreciation luncheon. Cash donations and grants are received from businesses, school groups, service clubs, community groups, 4-H clubs, individuals, and drug/alcohol prevention groups. Depending on the amount of services donated, expenses can range from $300 to $1500.

Publicity for the docu-dramas has been extensive. Newspapers havefeatured it on the front page. Radio and TV have covered it as a top news item. News releases are sent to all local media with an invitation to attend. Media are usually requested to hold their coverage until the day of or the day after the event. This aids in eliminating the general public from trying to attend the program.

Program Variations and Special Additions

Most counties use professionals to take pictures and slides of the docu-drama.

Videotaping is usually done by cable TV staff or staff from the media department of a large business (i.e., an insurance company). These visuals are used in a variety of ways to promote the docu-drama and to keep the message going as we work with youth. Photographs are sometimes used by schools to develop displays placed at the exit area of their prom to remind students of what can happen if they are careless in their driving. Videos are used in school driver's education classes. This is especially helpful to schools in counties where the docu-drama is only held every other year.

Educational packets are given to students at the conclusion of most docu-dramas. These include tips on safe driving, statistics, and information on legal aspects when involved in an accident. Some counties also put product samples in the packets to encourage students to look at their contents. Student evaluation forms are also generally put in this packet.

One county offers students at participating schools an additional educational opportunity related to the docu-drama. Municipal judges in the county plan time in their schedules to travel to each school to conduct a follow-up mock sentencing hearing for the accident portrayed in the docu-drama. Students are given an outline of what is to take place in the hearing, and play the parts of individuals in the hearing. This includes the prosecuting attorney, defendant, defense attorney, and several family members. A temporary court is set up at the school and the judge presides, complete with black robe and gavel! One private school with a small number of students went to Municipal Court and held their hearing right in the courtroom.

Evaluation and Statistics

Written evaluations from participating students and teachers have generally rated the docu-drama as a very positive experience. Most say that they learned a lot and that it made them think. Many say they will start wearing their seat belts more and change other driving habits.

For many, it makes the possibility of having an accident more real and close to home. But the real test comes in the statistics - numbers of accidents, number of fatalities, and number of times that alcohol and drugs are involved in accidents when teens are involved. Staff Lieutenant Richard H. Collins, Ohio State Highway Patrol, has reviewed the crash information for two counties which have been conducting docu-dramas over the past few years. He feels that the statistics support the positive impact that mock crash/docu-drama programs and other prevention activities have had on teens.

A docu-drama has been held annually in Richland County since 1990. Statistics show that the number of total fatal accidents there has remained fairly constant (17 in 1989, 19 in 1995). But the number of fatals involving the 16-19 year old age group appears to be declining (4 in 1989, 1 in 1995, with a "spike" of 6 in 1992). Alcohol involvement has remained fairly constant in all crashes, but is declining in youth crashes. In 1991, 1993, 1994, and 1995, there were no "youth" fatals involving alcohol. In 1989, 15% of individual crashes involving youth were alcohol related, but in 1994 that number was 5%. In 1989, 16% of the property damage crashes by teens involved alcohol, but in 1994 that number was 8%.

From 1988 to 1990, the three year period prior to the first docu-drama held in Hancock County in 1991, teens in the 17 to 19 year age group were involved, on average, in 1.66 fatal crashes, 78 injury crashes, and 121.33 property damage crashes annually. During the next three year period (1991 to 1993), those averages were reduced to 1.0 fatal crashes, 74.66 injury crashes, and 57.66 property damage crashes. From 1988 to 1995, alcohol was involved in 4.7% of the 1,405 crashes that teens were involved in. During the "pre" docu-drama years (1988 to 1990), alcohol was a factor in 7% of all crashes in this age group. During the docu- drama years, alcohol involvement was reduced to less than 4%.

Problems to Tackle

When conducting a large collaborative effort like the docu- drama, there are always difficulties and challenges to overcome. Because the docu-drama targets youth and their safety, many groups want to be a part of the program. Sometimes major turf issues must be resolved. Decisions to be made include: "Which law enforcement agencies will be involved, and which one will take the lead? Which media group will be featured as the reporter on the scene? Which EMS units will be used?" There is never a problem in getting people involved in a program like this!

Another major challenge to tackle is the difficulty of mobilizing students to participate in a community program held away from school. Most community-based docu-dramas are held at a central location, commonly the county fairgrounds. The logistics of moving vast numbers of students from a large high school to the site of the program is a huge challenge for the administration and staff of the school. Timing needs to be coordinated with normal transportation needs in the district, because many buses are needed to transport students at one time. Teachers and volunteers must be scheduled to ride the buses to ensure adequate adult supervision during travel and at the event. Despite obvious challenges, and time away from the classroom, the schools and the community have found the docu- drama to be one of the most powerful learning experiences that can be offered for the prevention of substance abuse, and promotion of safe driving practices among youth.


Involvement in large collaborative events like the docu- drama can be very time-consuming for Extension staff. But the results are great! Taking leadership in large events gives Extension great visibility in the community. It can help position Extension and Extension staff for future program efforts. It promotes collaboration in the community and helps community leaders develop collaboration skills. Turf issues must be resolved, which can lead to better working relationships in the future. Teens are involved on the planning committee, so they learn how to plan large events. Teens have the opportunity to learn to appreciate, and therefore respect, law enforcement. Different generations learn how to work together for a common cause.

Teens attending the docu-drama are challenged to improve their defensive driving skills, wear safety belts, be aware that they are responsible for their driving, and make wise decisions while driving. Statistics show that docu-dramas can help teens reach these goals.

In the end only one thing really matters. It is summed up in the motto held by most mock crash planning committees.."If We Can Save Just One Life!!!!!"