Clovis West Students Surprised with 44% Pilot Program

CHP Public Information Officer Sergeant Brian Pennings speaking at the 44% Program at Clovis West High School on May 24, 2022. (Adam Solis/Clovis Roundup)

14 students from Clovis West High School participated in the new drunk driving prevention pilot program from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) that focused on informing students on the consequences of driving under the influence on the morning of Tuesday, May 24.

The pilot program called the “44% Program”, aimed at informing students of the consequences and impacts of driving under the influence, debuted at Clovis West High School on Tuesday as a surprise to seniors and juniors who were initially told they were attending their first graduation practice, according to Hailey Bonds, the Clovis West High School activities director.

“With Fresno area high schools losing students in previous years the week before graduation…we knew we needed to do something big to help impact/influence their choices. With prom being Saturday and graduation next week. It made sense,” Bonds said.

The “44% Program” according to Sergeant Brian Pennings, the Public Information Officer for CHP said the name of their pilot program came about from information gathered from studies of traffic fatalities that showed that nearly 44% of traffic fatalities involved drivers that tested positive for drugs.

Pennings said CHP hopes to use the debut at Clovis West as an “example” to help this program spread across California as a supplement for the existing “Every 15 Minutes” drunk driving prevention program. 

The main difference between the two programs, Pennings said, was that in the “44% Program” the scope of what students are taught is not limited to just driving while drunk, such as how the “Every 15 Minutes” program does. Instead the “44% Program” expands their scope to incorporate driving while under the influence of drugs.

There are logistical difficulties in scheduling the “Every 15 Minutes” program to visit schools, that involves coordination in acquiring an ambulance, a wrecked car, and planning the student retreat in secret over a larger amount of time. Because of this, Pennings hopes to gain final approval to move forward with his goal of making the “44% Program” a grant that would be accessible to “every high school in the state.”

Students were also surprised by guest speakers who have been impacted by the choices of people who choose to drive under the influence. One speaker was Clovis West High School Principal Eric Swain.

In his story, Swain shared how his mother passed away. When a motorcyclist, named Craig, was driving under the influence crashed into her right before Swain’s freshman year of college started.

While Swain spoke, many staff and students who may have been talking during the informational portion of the presentation, stopped and displayed expressions of sorrow and surprise.

Swain said after his mother passed he remembered the anger he felt, while driving to college because he would have to drive his mother’s car that had still had the dent in the door from the crash.

Swain said he still remembers how difficult that time in his life was and said how it breaks his heart to this day when his sister asks what their mother sounded like because of how young Swain’s sister was when his mother passed away.

“You have to make the right choice. If you drink, if you smoke, if you partake in something real you have got to make the right choice because you don’t want to put yourself in a position,” Swain said. “It could have been prevented if Craig would’ve made the right choice.” 

“We got prom, you got graduation,” Swain said while on stage, “you got your life in front of you. Call someone, your good friend, don’t let someone else [who is under the influence] get behind the wheel, it’s a choice.”

Within the presentation was a video that played for the juniors and seniors who were watching from their seats in the bleachers that showed the 14 students who were selected to go through an exercise that simulated the effects of driving under the influence.

Through the use of a “drug suit” donated by Ford that simulates the effects of driving under the influences through the use of weights and braces on the legs to restrict movement in the legs and to create a “lethargic feeling” according to Pennings along with vision impairment goggles that affected the drivers sight and earmuffs to simulate impared hearing, students drove in a sectioned off area and experienced a sobriety test from CHP officers.

The students involved shared their experiences on stage in a video for other students to see and asked their peers to stand up if they agreed to take a pledge to not drive under the influence and to the surprise of Pennings, all of the students in attendance stood up to take the pledge.

“I could not have hoped for a better program. Everything went very, very well and what we’re hoping to do is create an irreversible memory hook so that these students could understand the importance of impaired driving and that drugged driving is the same thing and sometimes worse than drunk driving,” Pennings said.

As prom and graduation season get closer Pennings said that while it is an exciting time of the year it could also be a “tragic and dangerous” time and hopes that the Clovis community makes smart decisions.

Adam Ricardo Solis has written for The Collegian as a staff reporter covering a variety of topics and transferred from Fresno City College to Fresno State where he majored in agriculture business. He is excited to incorporate what he has learned about the agriculture industry in the Central Valley into future articles while also covering a variety of other community matters.