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Perspectives in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Project Graduation -- Maine

During the 1979 commencement period (May 15-June 30) in Maine, seven of the 12 deaths among teenagers that resulted from driving under the influence of alcohol occurred in the area of Oxford Hills. In response to this loss of life, a school-community coalition from Oxford Hills developed and implemented a program called "Project Graduation," a chemical-free graduation celebration, during the 1979-1980 school year. During Oxford Hills' 1980 commencement period, there were no fatalities, no alcohol or drug-related injuries, and no arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The number of fatalities occurring among 15- to 19-year-old Maine residents during the graduation period that involved teenagers driving under the influence of alcohol decreased from 12 in 1979 to one in 1984, with an intermittent drop to zero in 1983 (Figure 1). During this period, the number of high schools participating in Project Graduation increased from 1 to 129. This statewide diffusion effort, stimulated by the Maine Department of Educational and Cultural Services, Division of Alcohol and Drug Education Services, constitutes program adoption in 84.9% of Maine's high schools. In 1984, 79.1% of graduating seniors in project sites (68.3% of graduating seniors statewide) attended chemical-free commencement activities. The single fatality reported in 1984 did not occur in a Project Graduation site. Analysis of the fatalities in question for teens residing in areas where the program was in place, compared with teens who did not reside in those areas, revealed a significant difference (Mantel-Haenszel, p = 0.03) favoring teens exposed to Project Graduation (Table 1). Reported by C Mowatt, J Isaly, M Thayer, Maine Div of Alcohol and Drug Education Svcs, Dept of Educational and Cultural Svcs, Augusta, E Miller, Div of Health Education, Bureau of Health, Maine Dept of Human Svcs; J Fell, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; B Veal, Florida Informed Parents, Tallahassee; Program Svcs and Development Br, Div of Health Education, Center for Health Promotion and Education, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Nationally, teenagers have the highest rate of drinking drivers involved in fatal crashes for every 100 million vehicular miles driven--a rate of 2.9, compared with an average rate of 1.1 for all age groups. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that, in 1984, 4,200 teenagers died in alcohol-related crashes.

Although it is not possible to attribute the cause of the downward trend in Maine teen drinking and driving fatalities to the adoption of Project Graduation, evidence is sufficient to encourage public health support for the continued promotion of this important program and for more extensive efforts to determine those elements that can make the project more effective. On the basis of the results in Maine, the NHTSA has supported several national conferences to stimulate promotion of Project Graduation. In June 1984, 38 states had at least one Project Graduation site, and in May 1985, 19 states had designated a coordinator at the state level. In places where it is undertaken, Project Graduation is much more than an event that occurs on graduation night. It is a communitywide planning process that strives to create a caring, supportive environment and more open communication between youths and adults. At most sites, a team of teachers, students, and parents designs the chemical-free celebration and a variety of fund-raising activities. School officials, drug specialists, and community and business leaders provide guidance, support, and money for the celebration. Newspapers and radio and television stations work to increase community awareness of the issues. The result can be a powerful and positive force within the community and its institutions. For example, during the 1985 graduation period, four counties in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area are planning chemical-free graduation celebrations. At least 24 high schools will participate.

Project Graduation emphasizes prudent decision-making about drinking, drug taking, and driving and endeavors to establish chemical-free celebrations as the norm. Details on how to implement the program are available from: Project Graduation, National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, NTS-01, 400 7th Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C. 20590.

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