By Kristi Matal
In urging classmates not to drink and drive, Monique Peterson can share a frightening personal experience.
Peterson, now president of Inderkum High School’s Friday Night Live (FNL) Club, was a passenger in a car driven by an intoxicated family member when she was in the 7th grade.
“I was very scared, but I didn’t know too much because I wasn’t informed about the consequences of distracted driving,” Monique said. Sharing that experience is important, she says, and other teens have been impacted by it.
Monique’s story has a happy ending – the family member is sober now and no longer drinks and drives.
Years later, Monique is instrumental these days in warning high school classmates about the dangers of drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, vaping, and distracted driving. She is a veteran leader and three-year member of Inderkum’s FNL Club, which has won county honors for four straight years and recently was named California’s “Chapter of the Year.”
During National Teen Driver Safety Week, Oct. 15-21, the club conducted a teen safe-driving campaign. Members surveyed other teens about their driving habits and asked students to pledge not to drive while distracted. They provided a video game that simulated texting while driving. They also offered teens a chance to drive a small “pedal car” through an obstacle course while texting, enabling drivers to see how easy it is to veer off course. Numerous other FNL activities are provided at Inderkum throughout the year.
“When asked what she would like to tell other students about the FNL program, Monique replied, “I would like to tell students that this club really does make a difference for the community and the youth,” she said. “It also teaches them how to be responsible drivers.”
Serving in FNL has helped her, too, by enhancing her leadership and listening skills, said Monique, an Inderkum senior. “I became a better listener as I learned how to listen to different ideas and opinions.” She was FNL vice president last year, then stepped up to president this year.
Studies from the National Center for Statistics and Analysis highlight that teens need to be informed about distracted driving. Each day in the U.S., approximately nine people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver. At 55 miles an hour, sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds – long enough to cover an entire football field.
FNL is a statewide program, launched in 1984, initially to provide rides home to intoxicated teens. Its mission now is to promote safe driving and publicize the dangers of drug, alcohol, or tobacco use. Inderkum’s FNL chapter has 20 active members.
Parents can get involved in FNL at school football games or the Parent Teacher-Student Association meetings, by pledging against distracted driving. Parents also can find resources to help them communicate with their teens about distracted driving through a campaign called, “Talk They Hear You.”
Physical Education teacher Eric Fong started Inderkum’s FNL club in 2005 and continues to serve as its adviser. “What I liked most about the program was that it is youth-led and the students gather together to make positive change,” he said. “Our specific focus is prevention. Not everyone is willing to step up and stand up for what they believe in.”
When asked how he would describe FNL, Mr. Fong said, “Fun, Not under the influence, and Leaders!”