During the prom season, Georgia State Patrol troopers will be out in force looking for underage intoxicated drivers. And the Peace Officers Association of Georgia is working to make sure they find none.
"We want to heighten the awareness of this problem at this time of the year," said Sgt. First Class Jason Johnson, commander of the patrol post in Thomson. "There's going to be a lot of kids on the roads. We want to make sure that they make the right decision not to drink and drive."
The Peace Officers have offered their assistance to the GSP by soliciting funds from Jefferson Energy Cooperative and sponsoring programs at area high schools, including Thomson High School. The POAG and JEC gave the school $2,500 to implement activities throughout the week leading up to Saturday night's prom promoting an alcohol-free event. The POAG has been partnering with schools since 2002, but this is the first year they have sponsored the programs at Thomson High.
According to POAG literature, no incidents involving alcohol or drugs have been reported on prom night in the area that the activities have been sponsored.
"I'm not saying it's a miracle, I'm sure there's a lot of luck involved," POAG secretary/treasurer John Conley said. "But it helps to have the activities that make the kids aware of what can happen."
Activities have been taking place every day this week during lunch by the THS Bulldogs Against Destructive Decisions club and GSP Trooper Tommy Crafton. On Monday, students viewed a silent PowerPoint presentation, "Don't Become a Statistic," developed by the B.A.D.D. club showing views of wrecked vehicles and statistics. As a visual reminder of the hazards of driving drunk, a badly wrecked car was placed on the front lawn of the school, courtesy of Jimmy and Dena's Body Shop.
Trooper Crafton was on hand Tuesday with the DUI goggles, which gave the students a first-hand example of how impaired they would become if intoxicated.
On Wednesday, students were encouraged to sign pledge cards to avoid DUI on prom night. The pledge cards will be entered in a drawing for gift cards to be given away during the prom, beginning at 8:30 p.m. and continuing every half hour until the prom is over.
Trooper Crafton will return Thursday to give a presentation during a morning assembly. The Trooper also will be available during lunch Thursday to answer questions the students may have about the presentation.
Trooper Crafton talks to thousands of high school students in 21 counties in East Central Georgia every year about the dangers of driving and drinking. After teaching safety education classes for nearly five years, the best advice he can offer teenagers is not to allow peer pressure to get the best of them. He admonishes them "just don't give in to it." And his fellow officer agrees.
"If you allow peer pressure to get to you, then one poor decision could be a life-changing event," Lt. David Cody said. "We don't want that to happen."
A mini-theater will be set up in the mall area of the high school on Friday, showing short video clips from Georgia Public Broadcasting of actual DUI circumstances that include both victims and perpetrators.
Mr. Conley said members of the POAG will be on hand at Thomson's prom to serve as chaperones.
"We want our young people of have a positive image of law enforcement, as well as learn it does not pay to drink and drive," he said. "We also want them to live to have a happy memory of prom night."
In recent years, there have not been any alcohol-related fatalities locally involving teenagers during prom season.
"We want to keep it that way," Sgt. Johnson said.
Lawmen have advice for those hosting parties where alcoholic beverages are offered.
Hosts should be aware that if alcoholic beverages are given to underage teenagers, those responsible could face criminal charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Sgt. Johnson said. He also warned that hosts could face the possibility of civil litigation, if a teenager leaves drinking and driving and is involved in an alcohol-related collision.