'Contract for Life' proposed

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— All parents dread those middle-of-the-morning phone calls when their child has been in an accident or has been arrested for drinking and driving or possession of drugs. Parents would probably do everything they could not to hear those horrifying words.

Colorado State Patrol officers understand this problem and want to raise awareness about the problems that arise with teen-agers, alcohol, drugs and driving.

For the first time in Colorado, state troopers will visit high schools around the state to hand out "Contracts for Life," the new program that attempts to keep children safe and parents informed about teen drivers.

Beginning at about 9:30 a.m. today, state troopers will visit Steamboat Springs High School, give a brief talk about the "Contract for Life" program and pass out contract cards.

High school juniors and seniors will receive a "Contract for Life" card, either by their parents or the state troopers, that the students sign agreeing to call a parent or guardian if they find themselves in dangerous situations involving alcohol or drugs.

Trooper Don Moseman said this is the first time the Highway Patrol has become involved directly with the students.

"We hope to, No. 1, be available to answer questions about what we see on a daily basis and, No. 2, have parents become involved and understanding of a kid's situation," Moseman said.

Children and parents sign the card parents agreeing they will not ask any questions at the time children are picked up. Parents who sign the card also promise to call if they find themselves in a similar situation.

Trooper Brad Keadle, public relations officer in the Routt County area, teaches numerous classes in the field of defensive driving. He said most parents put their heads in the sand and hope that problems will disappear if left alone, but they won't.

"The troopers are hoping to institute a way for parents to have an open door to talk with kids about drug use and alcohol use," Keadle said.

The idea for having the contract available for students began with Kathy Yancer, editor and publisher of Eagle Valley Women's Forum, a family newspaper for Gypsum residents, which featured the contract.

She brought her idea to Capt. Fred Bitterman of Glenwood Springs in March 2000. Bitterman died five months later in a boating accident on Lake Powell, but not before proposing the contract to Moseman.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving probably implemented the idea first, Moseman said.

"The contract has worked really well with our kids," Yancer said of the nearly 15 children who refer to her and her husband as "mom" and "dad."

"Some kids don't feel comfortable signing the contract with their own parents and I've provided that comfort for them. I think that's what will probably happen (in Steamboat)."

Yancer said the contract has been copied for the North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Oregon State Police to hand out to students.

"Everybody makes mistakes in life, that's inevitable, and sometimes young kids find themselves in bad situations," Moseman said. "But the most important thing to remember is that they can call home."

Keadle said 30 percent of fatal car crashes involving teen-agers in the United States happen between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

Also, an average of two teen-agers every week die in car crashes in Colorado.

With 50 percent of all fatal crashes in the United States being alcohol- and/or drug-related, Keadle said he hopes this program will decrease the amount of times parents receive that devastating phone call.

"Marijuana is as easy to get for kids as alcohol. We need to educate the public and give another avenue to help parents," Keadle said.

Assistant Principal Mike Knezevich said he totally supports the program but wishes he had more time to prepare for the program announcement.

"I think bringing the certificate home will break some of the barriers between parents and kids about drugs and alcohol."

Knezevich said he has seen this kind of program in other schools and thinks it is effective. It opens up conversation for issues that sometimes may be hard for a family to discuss, Knezevich said.

"(My children) know they can call me and not have to answer any questions right then," Keadle said of his eight children, ranging from 8-18 years old. "We will talk about it later, but at least I don't have to pick up my kids from the morgue."

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