Friday, May 14, 1999

Isle projects show
success against teen
traffic fatalities

As graduation season approaches,
the word gets out on safety awareness

High school graduation dates

By Debra Barayuga


With the graduation party season heating up in upcoming weeks, Kahuku sophomore Kau'ilani Ostrem has a simple message: Don't speed, and don't drink and drive.

It's the same message the Koolauloa community has echoed each time one of their own has died from an alcohol or speed-related car crash.

This year, about 42 public and private schools will hold commencement ceremonies on the June 4-6 weekend, considered by many as the deadliest for teen-age party-goers.

At one time, graduation was synonymous with booze.

But emotionally drained from attending a succession of funerals of students killed in traffic crashes, Kahuku Principal Lea Albert pleaded for an end to the deaths. And for the community, one death was one too many. Since the Ko'olauloa Traffic Safety Coalition's inception in April 1997, traffic-related deaths of students and community members overall have gone down.

While speeding continues to be a problem, there have been only three traffic fatalities in the past two years. Before that, from 1994 to 1996, the 20-mile stretch from Sunset Beach to Kaaawa was averaging six traffic-related fatalities a year. The worst was in 1995 with eight deaths -- nearly 10 percent of Oahu's 85 fatalities that year.

Kahuku High and many concerned community and church members have been instrumental in spreading the traffic safety message through calendars, bumper stickers, and testimonials from survivors. "They have made a very, very serious effort to make the kids aware of the dangers, and that's important," said Mary Jane Long, coalition coordinator.

Honolulu police have beefed up traffic enforcement, and the state Transportation Department has installed reflective and safety markers, widened roadways and installed guardrails on Kamehameha Highway.

This year, Kahuku and 40 other public and private schools will be participating in Project Graduation, an activity aimed at keeping as many teens as possible off the road on graduation night. Schools transport their graduating senior classes following commencement exercises to undisclosed locations for a night of booze-free and drug-free partying.

Since the first Project Graduation, begun by Roosevelt High in 1990, there have been no alcohol-related traffic deaths on what is known as graduation weekend, usually the first weekend in June, said Jan Meeker, Project Graduation coordinator for the Department of Education. "If there are no fatalities, obviously we're doing something to help keep the statistics down and help reduce it further."

Even the rate for alcohol-related fatalities for 15- to 20-year-olds dropped nearly by half from 70 percent in 1990 to 36 percent last year, Meeker said.

Law enforcement officials attribute Project Graduation, continuing traffic safety awareness and the zero-tolerance law passed in 1997 for teen drivers under 21 caught with alcohol in their systems, to the decrease, Meeker said.

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