Why Every 15 Minutes Doesn’t Work

  • April 18, 2019
Photo courtesy of Natalie Berner

Every 15 Minutes is a biennial car accident simulation that LCHS presents with the help of the police and fire departments to serve as a warning to students about the dangers of driving under the influence. It involves a staged two-car collision in the street where the victims and perpetrators are LCHS students. The 9-12 class watches as the police and fire department arrive to arrest the inebriated driver and attempt to rescue the injured passengers from the vehicles.

Mr. Lyons was quite clear about the purpose of Every 15 Minutes at the end of the simulation on Thursday: it’s meant to scare us into making smart decisions. Don’t drink and drive, kids, because then that bloody corpse in the middle of the road will be you. It’s a tactic that works well in theory, but falls short in execution. Why? Because Every 15 Minutes isn’t real.

Fear comes from the belief that a situation is serious and presents an authentic danger to someone or something. For a simulation like Every 15 Minutes to evoke such a response, there must be a sense of urgency displayed by all the participants, creating an atmosphere strong enough to draw in the audience and make them believe in the gravity of the events unfolding in front of them. And while I’m sure everyone involved tried their absolute best, that mood was missing.

You’re supposed to feel uncomfortable as the driver is arrested, but instead you’re wondering why there’s a bunch of students with black and white skulls painted on their face in the middle of the road.

You’re supposed to be anxious as the firefighters use the jaws of life to pull off the roof of the car, but it’s hard to focus on that while simultaneously listening to the commentary and personal anecdotes casually provided by the narrating fireman strolling up and down the crash sight.

You’re supposed to be shocked when they cover the corpse with a blanket, but it can’t be too serious because there’s a cameraman right there zooming in on the body. And that’s not a body anyways – that’s a student you know covered in red paint pretending to be dead on the asphalt.

And don’t get me started on the funeral.

The simulated service that occurs the next day starts out with a video recap of what happened before and after the “crash.” It includes new tidbits that the audience didn’t get to see, such as one of the students dying at the hospital and the parents being notified, as well as the driver going to court and being sentenced.

The whole video is meant to be somber, showcasing the colossal consequences of one bad decision, but that point is lost beneath the laughable acting, ranging from overly dramatic or seemingly disinterested (“Any other ideas?” the doctor asks with the tone of one picking out toppings at Subway when it seems the crash victim doesn’t have a pulse anymore).

After the video, students who “died” in the crash read letters to their families about how sorry they are for making a poor decision and putting them through their death. It’s almost an emotional moment undercut entirely by the fact that the students are standing right there reading the letters! Their words have no emotional impact because the incident they’re referring to never happened.

I’m sure it’s a meaningful moment for the students who actually wrote the letters and got to actively participate in the simulation, but to the passive observer it’s completely insignificant.

And that leads us to the final piece of Every 15 Minutes, the talk by the guest speaker. Mohamed Hariri’s story about his sister’s death is the only moment in this two day simulation that actually had an effect on me, both this year and the first time I heard it in tenth grade. He’s the only person in this simulation that isn’t playacting when they address the hurt and pain caused by drunk drivers, and because of that, he’s the only aspect that feels genuine.

His recount of his experience forced me to imagine my parents’ reaction to getting the call that I had been killed in a crash, or worse, my own reaction to getting the same call about one of my younger siblings. That’s not something I could get from the rest of the simulation because none of it ever felt real enough to evoke a response.

Regrettably, the most evocative part in the simulation was also the shortest. I’m not sure how long Mr. Hariri spoke, but it seemed as though it lasted only 10-15 minutes, and was very rushed– more so than last time. It’s unfortunate that the moment the entire assembly should revolve around is treated as little more than a footnote, sloppily slapped on in the end once everyone has lost interest.

I want to make it clear that I appreciate all the effort and community collaboration that goes into presenting Every 15 Minutes. There’s no doubt in my mind that the administration genuinely cares for the wellbeing of the students and wants to do anything that they can to prevent such a tragedy from occurring.

And there are definitely good ideas buried in the simulation. Like I said earlier, it sounds good in theory. Getting to see a close up of what happens after a DUI crash, from the on-the-scene paramedics to the victims in the hospital and the culprit in the courtroom, could present a level of shock value that can deter students from engaging in such behavior.

But in their efforts to make it an uber-realistic simulation, the people in charge of Every 15 Minutes turn the whole thing into a joke because (unless they decide to have an actual car crash in front of the school with fatalities) it will never seem real. There needs to be a greater focus on first hand accounts like that of Mr. Hariri, stories from people who have either been in one of these crashes or know someone who has, and who can show us (not act out for us) the disastrous consequences driving under the influence can have on your life.

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