Teens’ Sobering Messages Get Top Billing

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MIDDLESEX COUNTY – Relying on good old-fashioned peer-to-peer communication, high school students from throughout Middlesex County produced 30-second public service announcements to warn their friends and classmates about the dangers of drinking and driving.

The winners of the 11th Annual “Don’t Drink and Drive PSA Contest” were announced during a luncheon in their honor held at the Middlesex Fire Academy, Sayreville.

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“This is one of my favorite events every year,” said Freeholder H. James Polos, chairman of the county’s Public Works and Transportation Committee. “The PSAs are incredibly well done, the students have a real sense of accomplishment and we’re helping to promote a message that can save lives. Families are shattered and lives are lost because of drinking and driving. This program sends a powerful anti-drinking message to young drivers that we hope will be heard and remembered.”

High school students from 13 schools throughout the county produced nineteen 30-second-long videos and six audio tapings that promote that promote driving safety to their peers and to adults. English and Spanish language video and audio submissions were judged on their originality and strength of message.

First place in the video category went to East Brunswick Vocational-Technical High School; second place went to Middlesex High School; and third place went to the Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics & Engineering Technology.

First place in the audio category went to Piscataway High School; second place went to East Brunswick Vocational-Technical High School; and third place went to Perth Amboy Vocational-Technical High School.

Polos said the contest coincides with prom season to remind all students of the seriousness of drinking and driving.

It is co-sponsored by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the Center for Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, the Middlesex County Superintendent of Schools, NCADD of Middlesex County and the Injury Prevention Program and the Level One Trauma Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

The county received $21,000 in grants from the New Jersey State Division of Highway Traffic Safety to run the PSA program.

“Drinking and driving is one of the greatest risks a young person will ever face,” said Pam Fischer, director of the State Division of Highway Traffic Safety. “The consequences are deadly and go far beyond fines and the loss of a driver license. The division commends the students who participated in this contest for serving as positive role models for their peers and for helping to spread the message about the horrific dangers of drunk driving.”

“Peer-to-peer communication is one of the most effective and empowering methods for young people to connect with each other,” said Robert Pandina, director of the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University. “This PSA program is one of those opportunities for these high school students to communicate a message about the dangers of drinking and driving, a message that is particularly important during the end of year prom season, to their peers.”

“This program has been well-received and supported by our school districts,” said Dr. Patrick Piegari, Middlesex Executive County Superintendent of Schools. “The powerful messages that are conveyed in these videos, I feel, send a very important message to all our students.”

Steve Liga, NCADD CEO and executive director, said that just as it is important for parents and other adults to talk to teens about drinking and driving, teens too have a role to play when crafting prevention messages: “They speak the language of their peers to their peers. They know what they like. They know what they will listen to.”

Liga said that while the product of all their work has a big payoff for viewers, it’s the process of making the PSAs that has the most lasting effect on the students. “When putting the messages together, students are doing the research, talking to their friends, really thinking about it. That’s what sticks. The message is one they internalize.”

“In order to ensure the safety of all those who use our roadways, Middlesex County law enforcement has worked tirelessly to educate our citizens on the dangers of drunk driving and the significant financial and criminal penalties associated with drunk driving,” said Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan. “Middlesex County law enforcement also vigilantly and aggressively prosecutes those who, by violating the law, place both themselves and others at risk of harm. We thank all of you here today for your efforts in helping us to stop drunk driving throughout Middlesex County.

During the morning, students engaged in creative group activities, gained a realistic perspective on teenage drinking and experienced everyday activities through “fatal vision” goggles, which simulate elevated blood-alcohol levels.

The winning schools in the video category received $1,000, second place received $750 and third place received $500.  The winning schools in the audio category received $500, second place received $300 and third place received $200. All winnings go to support Project Graduation or other Driver Safety and Awareness Programs. The Highway Traffic Safety Division provided gift certificates to each member of the three winning teams.

Middlesex County Freeholder H. James Polos (left) joins Dr. Patrick Piegari, Middlesex Executive County Superintendent of Schools (far right) and the first place winners of the video portion of Middlesex County’s 11th Annual “Don’t Drink and Drive PSA Contest”.  The students from East Brunswick Vocational-Technical High School won for their school for their video “Welcome Home”.


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