As springtime swings into full gear, so do teenagers.
For them spring means prom and graduation and the approaching end of school.
While spring brings about events that are milestones in a teenager's life worthy of celebration and excitement, it also brings about a dangerous time for the nation's youth. With the arrival of prom and graduation season also comes an increase in teenage alcohol consumption.
According to multiple national surveys, during the months of April, May and June youth traffic fatalities drastically increase in comparison to the rest of the year.
In 2001 2,950 youths under 21 died in alcohol-related wrecks. Of those 1,012 occurred during the months of April, May and June, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In 2002, 2,902 individuals under 21 died in alcohol-related crashes -- 711 were during April, May and June, said www.drugfree.org.
The Web site also said in 2005 slightly over one third of under age deaths due to alcohol related traffic fatalities occurred these three months.
Last year over 59 percent of all alcohol-related fatal car crashes among teens where within these three months, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The startling statistics speak volumes.
In an effort to reverse this national trend, a number of area schools host post-prom and post-graduation lock-ins.
During these lock-ins graduates have the opportunity to win money and various prizes. Winnings range from $15 to $500 -- from McDonald's gift cards to brand-new stereos and television sets. With these events parents can be assured their teen is not on the road alongside intoxicated drivers; instead, teens are given the opportunity to celebrate their proms and graduations drug and alcohol free.
Area schools are not the only ones taking preventative measures. Local police and sheriff's departments are extra cautious throughout the prom and graduation season.
"From a law enforcement standpoint, we're always nervous about this time of year," said Salem Police Chief Albert Roork. "We watch the roads close, and we are usually aware of popular party spots."
Mammoth Spring Police Chief Michael Davis said officers are always on their toes. He said officers often patrol around Mammoth Spring School's graduation lock-in to make sure teens stay in and anything questionable stays out. "We also check the spots -- everywhere we think kids might go (to party)," Davis said.
Sharp County Sheriff Dale Weaver said there is a noticeable increase in traffic activity during the spring and summer months, and his department increases patrolling to ensure safety. "We set up safety checks -- not just on highways but on busy county roads too. That's yielded a lot of arrests in the past and it's something we'll do again this year," he said.
"During this time we do saturation patrolling with additional deputies," said Izard County Sheriff Tate Lawrence. "We also set up random sobriety check points."
"Prevention is the main thing. It's definitely better to not (drink and drive) than to be caught," Lawrence said.
Fulton County Sheriff Walter Dillinger said he's aware kids want to get out and party during the prom/graduation season. "It's about the end of school, and I know the kids are excited," he said. "But all officers will be out during that time."
"Kids need to know, we watch not to spoil their fun -- it's to keep them safe," Dillinger said.