Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

« Claws | Main | Recommended reading »

June 17, 2008

Cops and parents hoax drunk driving deaths to scare teens

Last month, police officers visited 20 classrooms at El Camino High School to inform teens that several of their classmates had been killed in drunk driving crashes over the weekend. Not surprisingly, the students were devastated by the news.

Several hours later, the adults revealed that it was all a hoax: Nobody died. There was no accident. Trusted authority figures cooked up the whole story to teach the kids a lesson. A guidance counselor literally told the AP reporter that the object of the exercise was to traumatize the kids so that they'd get the message.

Unfortunately, the lesson these unfortunate California high schoolers learned is that adults have to lie to convince them that drinking and driving is dangerous. So, this cruel stunt precisely backfired. The take home message became: Don't trust adults who warn you about drinking and driving.

Great public health outreach, folks.

[HT: Ellen of The D'Alliance]


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Cops and parents hoax drunk driving deaths to scare teens:


For information about the "Every 15 Minutes" program from the California Office of Traffic Safety go to:

Lest ye be a victim, you should not speak on this

Um, since you're not a victim, doesn't your dictum that mean that *you* should STFU as well?


The proper way to take DUI seriously is to take it... you know... *seriously*. That means not playing silly games and play-pretend.

Tybalt, how do you anything about me? So you know I am not a victim of DUI? You know I have never lost a friend or family member? Fuck you ass! You are a "cretin"! Do not presume to know about people when you do not know WTF you are talking about.

BTW, I was playing with word in a joking way, to bring a little levity to the post. I love jerkoff like you who want to correct people's dictum on a blog. Have you nothing better to do with you life?

As to the topic, I have asked a couple of the victim advocate here in my office and they agree that this was a poor attempt at deterence. I also asked a good friend who is a high school principal and she was too thought it was a bad idea, but also said, she is at her wits end with how to reach kids these days and can understand that someone thought "shock education" may work.

I guess in looking more into this it was a poor idea. Having lost several friends in high school to fire and murder, and a friend recently to DUI, I know that the grief these kids feel is genuine and I would not wish that on anyone. But kids today are growing harder and harder to reach. Kids DO drink and drive. I see it EVERYDAY!! How to stop them is a tough question.


I like the way in which you took the issue to heart and changed some of your views along the way. This blog can be a great education for all of us. You are to be commended for focusing on the substantive content at the same time rude invectives were hurled at you.

What the school administration did is a sad example of the level of totalitarianism and ignorance in our society today. The purported end is used to justify the means - whether the latter be "tough love" or "shock pedagogy" or "enhanced interrogation techniques." Even when, upon closer investigation and empirical analysis, the purported end is never achieved by the dubious means.

Thanks Norman. I found your posts to be very enlightening and informative. You challenged me to look harder at the issue. My intial reaction was a knee-jerk one. But after putting thought to it, I see this was a poor idea by the school.

As promised, here are reactions from my psychology faculty colleagues and students. I did some minor editing. Please note that one the faculty member states, "...scared-straight program evaluations presented in the professional literature are generally found to be ineffective."

FACULTY: I think this scenario is unethical and a terrible idea. Not only did it frighten the students as they intended but it also taught the students that frightening people by lying to them is okay under some circumstances. They were manipulated in the worst way by adults they trusted. A bad lesson to teach the children. It reminds me of that MTV show with Ashton Kutcher where he pranked people with practical jokes - they called it "punk'd". He set up fake and acted out scenarios, told them lies, and watched their reaction for TV. It was awful how the victims were treated. They laughed when it was revealed that they were pranked but I can see lasting resentment ensuing. Some were funny but some were pretty cruel. Here's a link:'d

FACULTY: Not ethical. I cannot image that any Human Subjects Review Board would approve such research.

FACULTY: It's a clear no.

GRADUATE STUDENT: I would say no. I think that this would definitely be unethical to cause the students so much pain and angst by flat-out lying to them about something so devastating. I would be very angry if this was done to myself or my child. As far as teaching the students about the dangers of drunk driving, it seems that there are other, more ethical, ways to go about it. As far as conducting a social science research study to assess the effectiveness of such tactics to reduce the occurrence of driving under the influence, my answer is that it would not be ethical to conduct a study such as this.

FACULTY: I agree that this research is unethical. While there is a potential benefit to society, the likely psychological costs to the research participants is too great and intense. In addition, there are alternative ways of testing the same hypotheses.

FACULTY: The Human Subjects Review Board is charged with protecting human subjects and evaluates ethical issues in research based on the Belmont Report and the guidelines. The guiding principles in research ethics are respect for subjects, beneficence, and justice. Belmont states that beneficence includes "do no harm," and ensuring benefits are maximized and risks are minimized. Seems to me if this were a social science study, it is a violation of that principle and as such, would not be approved by our Board. Some may argue (although I am not one of them) if the program saves a life, it is worth it; however scared-straight program evaluations presented in the professional literature are generally found to be ineffective. I also noticed there was no mention in the article of parental consent which is problematic given these students were minors.

GRADUATE STUDENT: That is ridiculous. Not ethical in my opinion!

How many of these kids were driven to drink by the trauma of having these idiots hoax them like this?

I sent the article to a schoolteacher who is the mother of teenagers, without comment. Her response:

"I'd never heard of this, but I think it is very, very stupid. Teenagers are so hard to get trust from to begin with. This will just make it worse."

The approach L. Beyerstein describes with a funeral director simply describing his work would have been considerably more effective. The cops might have done much the same thing: one or two graphic, first-hand descriptions of dragging eviscerated teenage corpses out of wrecked cars should do the trick.

This though sounds like a vehicle for a John Waters movie. I honestly can't help but laugh; I know exactly what my reaction as the cynical little teenaged shit that I was would have been: I'd have been thrilled with the histrionics and chaos the stunt caused. Sobbing girls, fury, shouting. Sure beats geometry class – way more fun than doing proofs.

I've heard of stupider things but not by much. This covers so many levels of ignorance and hatred. How could you approve doing that to your OWN child? I couldn't imagine telling my child a lie of that magnitude. Phew, this is the influence of the 'cop-next-door', cop in the classroom bush years. (yes I DO blame everything on bush)

This angers me almost as much as when I found out that my parents were regularly lying to me about the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Jesus.

Yo, s1mplex, Jesus doubtless existed, the question is: could he defy the laws of physics and walk on water like some kind of giant water water strider? Perhaps he had really, really big feet.

Several hours later, the adults revealed that it was all a hoax: Nobody died. There was no accident. Trusted authority figures cooked up the whole story to teach the kids a lesson. A guidance counselor literally told the AP reporter that the object of the exercise was to traumatize the kids so that they'd get the message.
california dui

Most kids do not drink and drive. They understand that the risks outweigh the benefits.

That is total bs!! I would be totally pissed if I was one of those kids!

That was going a little bit to far. I understabd that drunk driving is bad but that does'nt give ANYONE the to scare kids just to teach them a lesson. They knew pretty damn well what would happen and now they lost the trust of their kids. No matter how you say it, it's still wrong and they should have used another tactic.

adults are complete idiots. avoid them, and definitely discard their ideas about the "real world." everybody already lives in the real world every day. after all, what are young people doing if not living in a completely real world? are they not in a world? are they not living?

the idea that adults in western culture should use such stupid ways of indoctrination is anathema to love and caring and belongs solely to fear-based incompetence.

The comments to this entry are closed.