- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 22, 2004

When many teens head out for prom night, they have their community’s support for a fun — and safe — time.In Fairfax and Arlington counties and the city of Alexandria, the nonprofit Safe Community Coalition (SCC) and the Fairfax County Public Schools sponsor Project Hospitality. The program, in its ninth year, encourages parents, law enforcement and businesses to work together to cut down on teen drinking.

The SCC urges parents to chaperone parties. It also supports local hotel owners in monitoring reservations to ensure that rooms are not rented to teenagers seeking to host hotel parties.

The Virginia Limousine Association also promotes a safe prom night. Members of the professional association sign pledges that they will not provide or allow alcohol or tobacco while teens are riding in the car, says Glenn Stafford, association president and owner of Love Limousine in Richmond and Stafford Limousine in Washington.

Parents need to make the arrangements to hire a car, Mr. Stafford says. They should inquire whether the driver is a member of the state limo association or is approved by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

“This means the driver is paying attention to the rules,” he says. “Just because someone is in the phone book doesn’t mean he is certified. To be certified means you have passed background and drug tests and know how to operate a business.”

In Maryland, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the Drawing the Line on Underage Drinking task force (comprising liquor-control and law-enforcement officials) have teamed up for a similar campaign with limousine companies and other businesses.

“We did driver training in April,” says Jessica Reich, MADD’s Maryland youth coordinator. “We also do an awareness campaign at hotels where we know proms are going to be.”

MADD also has distributed “Buzz Free Prom” cards. Students sign them to pledge to stay sober on prom night.

Many parents feel there is safety in numbers on prom night.

Sending a teenager out with a group of a dozen others seems like a better system of checks and balances, one Virginia woman says.

“I definitely like when they go out in groups,” says Kathy Graydon of Ashburn, whose daughter, Erin, attended the Stone Bridge High School prom at the Tysons Westpark Hotel earlier this month. Erin went with a date and 10 other couples. “There can be a lot of pressure and expectations on prom night.”

Parents also like to know where their children are. In recent years, school- or PTA-sponsored “after-prom” parties have become a welcome trend in many communities. These parties, which most often are free, allow teens to continue partying all night in a safe, chaperoned, drug-free environment.

“I absolutely feel safer knowing my kids are at ‘after-prom,’” says Peggy Robbins, organizer of the after-prom event at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School the past two years. “‘After-prom’ keeps them in an alcohol-free place and out of hotels.”

Last year’s Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School after-prom party was held at Strike Bethesda bowling alley.

“It was incredible,” Ms. Robbins says. “We gave away 150 prizes. We found that the majority of kids who went to prom also went to after-prom. We had to kick them out at 5:30 a.m.”

This year’s Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School after-prom — which is free — was held last night at Dave and Buster’s in North Bethesda.

Meanwhile, prom, graduation and summer vacation are when MADD steps up its public-awareness campaign, Ms. Reich says.

Ms. Reich has made the rounds to local schools recently. She brought along the “fatal vision goggles,” which simulate what one’s vision would look like if drunk.

“It is hard to gauge whether the ‘don’t-drink-and-drive’ message is getting through to every kid,” she says.

“When I go to high schools, there are definitely kids who think it is all fun and games, but a lot of kids do realize the severity of drinking and driving,” she says.

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