Alive at 25: Program aims to save young drivers’ lives

COUNTY — The Alive at 25 program curriculum, which at its core is a young driver intervention program, has been available in South Carolina since 2007.
“What a lot of people don’t realize,” said Ron Elwood, training and development manager for the South Carolina Chapter of the National Safety Council, “is that the No. 1 cause of death for young drivers between the ages of 15 and 24 are car crashes.”
Elwood addressed Pickens County school board trustees at last Monday night’s scheduled school board meeting, discussing the benefits of the Alive at 25 program.
In 2006, Dutch Fork High School in Irmo, just outside of Columbia, lost six students in a single school year as a result of automobile accidents. For 13 consecutive years leading up to 2006, Dutch Fork High School experienced the deaths of an average two students per year because of car crashes.
“The principal and community of Dutch Fork were devastated. They had grief counselors on campus for virtually the entire school year,” said Elwood. “Ultimately, the resolution was that we recognized some proactive measures had to be taken to protect young drivers on our roadways.”
Current counts put Alive at 25 in 79 high schools throughout the state of South Carolina. Since the program came to SC in 2007, traffic fatalities in the 15-24 year age group have been reduced by 41 percent.
“In 2007, we lost 278 drivers in the 15-24 year age group. Last year we lost 164, which is a 41 percent reduction,” said Elwood. “It’s not just Alive at 25; it is the community approach with the program. With school administrators, parents of students, staff at the National Safety Council and more than 70 law enforcement agencies as partners, it is a mindset change relative to how big of an issue this is and the way to tackle this epidemic in our state.”
Curtis Greer, a law enforcement officer for the State of South Carolina and an instructor for the Alive at 25 program, also spoke during the presentation to SDPC board trustees.
“Wren High School in Anderson County lost five students in one weekend — on Friday and Saturday nights — before this program was implemented,” said Greer. “Since it has been implemented they have lost one student. It works.”
Of the 46,220 South Carolina high school students who have participated in the Alive at 25 program since it was adopted in 2007, 17 students have been killed in car crashes. Of those 17, three were passengers killed through no fault of their own.
While the numbers show measurable success, Greer and the National Safety Council Alive at 25 representatives maintain that one life lost is one too many.
“You look at these statistics and you say, well, 17 over the past three years out of 46,220 isn’t too bad, but what if it was one of your children,” asked Greer. “Would it be OK then? Absolutely not. Our goal is to get all of our students through this program so we don’t lose any more.”
Employing law enforcement officers as instructors is a key component of Alive at 25. According to Elwood, there is no one better equipped to provide such a realistic perspective to our young students.
“They respond to these accidents,” he said. “They see these young people killed and they have to go knock on the doors and tell parents that their children are dead.”
In terms of time and expense incurred by the SDPC, Alive at 25 does not place much of a burden on the schools.
“From an administrative standpoint, we handle online registration and take payment,” said Elwood. “The cost is $35 for the 4.5-hour course. If a student cannot financially afford, we are a non-profit organization with generous sponsors willing to assist those with financial hardships.”
Alive at 25 courses are available after school and on weekends so they do not interfere with classroom instructional time.
“Our high school principals have unanimously requested that we offer this in our schools. It is important for our students, and we do hope that this is something we can consider,” said SDPC assistant superintendent of instructional services Dr. Kelly Pew. “Our high school principals, similar to those in surrounding districts, would like this to be required of every student who drives to school. Students who do not participate in this four-hour training will not be given a parking pass.”
“I have a 16-year-old daughter myself, and my daughter wrecked her car,” board trustee Jim Shelton said. “She’s not a reckless driver; she was just distracted. She flipped twice and rolled down an embankment
“By the grace of God, she walked away. Thank God I didn’t lose my daughter. I’m not sure the scope or scale of this program. My only question is how quickly can we get this program into our schools?”
Not every member of the SDPC board expressed the same enthusiasm for Alive at 25.
“If the students do not participate in this, they will not be allowed to drive to school — is that correct?” asked trustee Ben Trotter. “I’ve got nothing against this program at all except for the part where we’re blackmailing our students saying either you take it or you don’t drive.”
“Mr. Trotter, I wish someone had blackmailed my daughter before she rolled down a hill,” Shelton responded.
Elwood suggested that many teenagers are not going to want to take the course without some type of incentive.
“It is a privilege to park on high school campuses,” said Elwood. “There is great value in providing this instruction. Without a valuable incentive, it can be difficult to get students into the class.”