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Smart Phones Lead to Smart Choices to Prevent Drinking and Driving by EmPoWER Somerset Executive Director Sharon Lutz

 Courier News article with QR Code

In the late night hours at an off campus house party, a recent college graduate residing in Somerset County indicates that he and his friends look at each other and begin to figure out who is the least "drunk "to drive them all home. This behavior he conceded as well as excessive drinking continues to be a huge problem in the young adult population. This information was provided during a focus group facilitated by EmPoWER Somerset with 11 young adults between the ages of 18-25 in Somerville. These young adults also shared that they were eager to be part of preventing this almost routine scenario. They said the most effective way of reaching their peers was through the internet. More than half of these young adults spend over 5 hours a day on the internet and they would much rather than text than have a phone conversation.

Our young adults are the first generation to grow up with the internet, talk through texting in their own language and know the pitfalls of being tagged in a picture on facebook of an "oh crap" moment from from excessive drinking the night before. So my question was what is the best way to use the latest technology to prevent young adults from making a bad decision that could affect them for the rest of their life. Their answer was use humor to get their attention and provide helpful information with no more than one click. So the Quick Response (QR) code and text message campaign began.
Last Thanksgiving EmPoWER Somerset through its Somerset Initiative for Partying Safely (SIPS) collaborated with The Courier News, Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano, Somerset County Sherriff Frank Provenzano and the Somerset County Chiefs of Police Association to provide an historic crack down on underage liquor sales and drinking and driving. This year, these efforts will continue along with an added feature – local bars will be using quick response codes to advertise taxi companies to help get them home safely. Young adults will simply use their smart phone to scan the codes on table tents, posters and business cards to easily view a list of taxi companies.

The SIPS young adult volunteer committee will help distribute posters and table tents to 15 popular area night spots including Maestro 206, Mannions and Alfonoso’s, whose manager Kari Werther indicated would be happy to participate. Local bars and restaurants have been invaluable partners in helping prevent underage access to alcohol. Alfonso’s has hosted four "Techniques of Alcohol Management" (TAM) trainings, reaching over 130 alcohol servers from throughout Somerset County. During Superbowl weekend 2011, several local bars helped advertise taxi services, although the initiative this Thanksgiving will be the first to incorporate the use of QR codes.

The SIPS coalition comprised of 30 volunteers representing every sector of our community, provides a comprehensive needs assessment and multi tiered approach to decrease excessive alcohol consumption in the young adult population. This year alone through collaborative efforts SIPS has reached over 15,000 Somerset County residents, collected over 300 young adult designated driver pledges, held 5 awareness events including 2 at Raritan Valley Community College led by SIPS spokesperson Casey Randazzo. Thousands more will be reached through placement of community kiosks and the development of a video PSA, both in the works. Young adults 18 and over are invited to audition for a lead role in the SIPS intergenerational video PSA at a casting call on Monday, November 28th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. in Bridgewater.

Anyone interested in participating in any SIPS initiatives should contact Cheryl Torres at EmPoWER Somerset at cheryl@empowersomerset.com or visit empowersomerset.com.