Captain Jeff Dunn has seen and done a great deal during his 29 years as a police officer, but one of the most rewarding things he has been involved with in his tenure at the Fuquay-Varina police department is the development of Teen Day Fuquay. Teen Day was organized for the first time five years ago as a way of reaching out to teens and pre-driving youth and trying to prevent them from driving while under the influence. “As police officers, we spend a lot of time responding to situations,” Capt. Dunn explains. “It’s rare that we ever have an opportunity to prevent something from happening, and when we do its extremely rewarding.” Teen Day Fuquay is just that kind of program – one that reaches the youth of our community and tries to educate them on the dangers of impaired driving.
An alcohol and distracted driving awareness program Teen Day offers young people the chance to experience the realities of mixing alcohol and texting with driving. Using both high- and low-tech methods that replicate those effects in a safe environment, kids gain hands-on experience and learn the facts that can help them make wiser choices about driving.
Teen Day is a community-wide effort, utilizing the skills and expertise of the police department, the fire department, the town’s parks and recreation department, the town’s public information office, and school principals and teachers. Held every spring at South Park near the community center on S. Main Street, the event draws close to 1,000 local teens and children ranging in age from late elementary school through high school. “Youth are our single most valuable resource,” says Dunn. “It is our pleasure to take one day each year to educate them, get to know them, and let them get to know us and what we do.”
The event itself is a fun-filled day of simulations, hands-on activities, and education that includes an accident reenactment by the Fuquay-Varina Fire Department, pedal cars that students use with impairment goggles, a BATmobile (breath alcohol testing vehicle), “walking the line,” an Iron Man obstacle course, a DWI driving simulator, and a seat belt convincer. They also see the impact of texting while driving in a controlled environment. There are 10-12 different stations with activities that are part of the “Drive Wise” course, including a booth where they sign a pledge stating they won’t drink while distracted. The first 250 participants that complete the majority of the Drive Wise course will earn a coveted Teen Day Fuquay t-shirt. Each year the shirt is a different color and the police department happily reports that they see students wearing their shirts around town long after the event is over.
The participants all receive pizza and the event is MC’d by a local disc jockey who spins music and helps give away prizes all day. “We feed them, we entertain them, and we educate them,” shares Dunn. “It may not stick with them that day, but if it gives them the tools to make informed choices down the road when they get behind the wheel… if we can just save one life… it will be a success in our eyes.”
One of the more exciting stations in the Drive Wise course is the “rescue simulation,” which is acted out by the Fuquay-Varina Fire Department and Wake County Rescue teams. This feature was added in 2013, and the town has added something new every year to make it interesting and different for repeat attendees. “Last year we added a grieving mother,” adds the town’s public information officer, Susan Weis. “This year we will add something else new, so be sure to attend the event to see what we have up our sleeve!” The simulation in 2014 involved a vehicle full of teens that was involved in a nasty wreck, complete with extraction with the “jaws of life” and a dead teenager covered with a sheet. The performances by the students and rescuers were very believable and it captured the attention of everyone at the event for almost an hour.
The program partners with Fuquay-Varina Middle and High Schools, working with teachers and both principals to attract teens to the event – as participants and as staff. The staff t-shirts that students wear to help with the event have become hot commodities with students, and helps secure enough volunteers for the event. And the town produces thousands of bookmarks with the date and time of the event that are distributed to every middle and high school student in Fuquay-Varina. These functional items have a purpose other than marketing and help parents and students remember the event after school hours. Banners in front of each school remind parents who are dropping off their students that the event is coming up. It is these pre-driving youth that are the primary target audience of the actual event. “We are focused on student driver safety at FVHS and are particularly sensitive to the circumstances that seem to accompany teen driving in the months surrounding prom season,” says Fuquay-Varina High School Principal Jonathan Enns. “It is our hope that our efforts combined with Teen Day Fuquay will limit any potential teen driving incidents from occurring.”
This event began five years ago as the brain child of the Fuquay-Varina police department, and was initially funded with a grant from the Wake County Board of Alcohol Control. The Board funded the program for the first three years, with which the town purchased the equipment that they needed to run the program themselves. In 2014, the town decided it would take ownership of the event and fund it completely as a service to the community.
The town now owns the DWI simulator, the pedal cars, and a trailer and vehicle to pull the equipment. When not in use for Teen Day Fuquay, the vehicle is used at the high school for school resource officers, and is branded with “In partnership with Wake County Board of Alcohol Control” on the back. It is a constant reminder of the program and the education that the program provides. The support from the ABC Board definitely helped get the ball rolling in Fuquay-Varina, but the town has made a commitment to keeping the program going annually for the foreseeable future.
The 2015 Teen Day Fuquay event is scheduled for Saturday, April 18th from 11am-4pm at South Park near the Fuquay-Varina community Center. This year, it is strategically planned for the weekend BEFORE the FVHS prom. “This event as grown steadily every year,” says Weis. “The police department and our school administrators have seen the impact of teen deaths from alcohol and texting and are dedicated to doing everything they can to prevent tragedies like those from happening in Fuquay-Varina.”
For more information about this event or to volunteer or sponsor the activities, contact Capt. Jeff Dunn at (919) 753-1008.