"Don't Let Alcohol and Drugs Drive You Out of Control."
That was the message on the sign placed on the back of a smashed and mangled car that sat as a gruesome prop outside Baltimore County's eighth annual Conference on Drinking, Drugs and Driving yesterday.
More than 400 high school students representing 26 schools were present at Martin's West for the meeting that kicked off Project Prom Night, the county's annual campaign to educate prom-goers on the dangers of driving while drunk or after using drugs.
"I can't see why you would want to take a drink, let alone take a drink and go and drive," said Candi Maury, a senior at Woodlawn High, who was attending the conference for the third time.
One of the toughest parts of being an active member of the group, students said, was getting peers to listen to warnings about the dangers of drug and alcohol use.
"A lot of people don't listen," Maury said. "They won't give us the time of day."
"They figure they're not going to die, they're not going to get in a car accident," said Jennifer Jones, a senior at Perry Hall High School. "They think they're teen-agers and can live a little bit, and then when they get older they'll get serious."
Robert Anastas, founder and executive director of the national organization of Students Against Driving Drunk, told students that the role of care giver was one of the most important they could play.
In the early 1980s, Anastas said, students weren't trained to know how to deal with a peer who tried to leave a party drunk. He credited the growth of SADD to the drop in alcohol-related accidents among teens, from more than 6,000 in 1981 to less than 2,000 last year.
"Five or six years from now, I don't think we'll have kids dying of drunk driving accidents," he said.
Susan McLaughlin, mother of 3-year-old Ryan Davis-Shanahan who was killed last summer in his Baltimore County back yard by a teen-age drunk driver, showed students a film of her son, a tiny blond child with a mischievous grin.
"Ryan was a casualty of a war that's been raging for a long time," McLaughlin said.