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Youth Coalition Fights Back Against Impaired Driving

The Eagle River Youth Coalition, located in Avon, Colo., a close-knit rural town west of Vail, is fighting back against a trend of impaired driving.

Executive Director Michelle Hartel Stecher explained that the coalition was alerted to the problem after noticing some disturbing trends in data via the annual Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which sites youth behavioral data as well as local police, courts, and media.

The coalition used a comprehensive approach based on CADCA’s Seven Strategies for Effective Community Change. Their approach included education and skill-building opportunities; media campaigns; and conversations with “effective” partners, such as law enforcement, medical centers, schools and prevention-based providers. As a result of their efforts, statistics involving impaired driving improved significantly.

According to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, instances of teens riding in vehicles driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol in the past 30 days dropped by 10 percent from 2009. Instances of teens riding in vehicles operated by someone who had been using marijuana in the past 30 days decreased by 9 percent since 2009.

Hartel Stecher specified some initiatives that are taking place to keep instances of impaired driving and injuries low.

“We are facilitating community conversations around the importance of safe driving, with a focus on seatbelt safety and focused driving,” she said, adding that the coalition’s vice president has alerted the Avon Town Council on the life-saving value of seat belts and provided an update on law enforcement “Click It or Ticket” campaigns.

The Eagle River Youth Coalition also partnered with the Colorado Department of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and local media partners to kick off a “Designate a Sober Driver” campaign for the next three months, which began on July 1.

In addition, coalition staff and law enforcement partners have become “trained as trainers for the Impact Teen Drivers curriculum, and are developing an implementation plan for elementary through high school students and parents,” Hartel Stecher said.

But even with such superb strategies, the coalition still faces obstacles, such as difficulty getting “partners to the table.” Hartel Stecher said she would have liked to have worked more with the judicial and probations systems, as well as the local district attorney’s office.

“One of the biggest hindrances is that folks are concerned about sharing data confidentially,” she added. “Relationships are so key. It’s valuable to have a community cheerleader. [Ours was] the chief of police of our local police department. People listen because he is in uniform and respect him. He brought specific relationships that we were able to engage.”

Her advice to other communities dealing with similar issues?

“It’s okay to start small…and it’s okay to pursue something that is a one-time educational event or media campaign,” she explained. “Just bring more awareness to the topic. You have to personalize it.”

As for the Eagle River Youth Coalition, Hartel Stecher said that perseverance is crucial in order to achieve success. “We have seen a lot of positive change…Just keep with it.”