"The earlier that you increase that awareness and have them know about warning signs, especially going into a car, you are saving lives," said Principal Susanne Bailey.
Last week, State Police were crediting a 12-year-old with being aware of those warning signs and saving lives upstate by calling 911 from inside her mom's car to say that her mother, Jamie Hicks, of Islip, was driving drunk.
After troopers tracked down the car last Sunday evening on Interstate 84 in Southeast, Hicks had a blood-alcohol content of 0.18 - more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 - and she was charged with felony driving while intoxicated with children, according to court records.
The Long Island executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Thomas McCoy, said it must have been difficult for Hicks' daughter to call police on her mother, who was then charged with a felony under a new provision of the driving-while-intoxicated statute that punishes drunken drivers more harshly when children are in their vehicle.
"That is the biggest dilemma of who is going to tell and what happens to that child when that child goes home," McCoy said. "You have a child telling on a parent to police and that parent is committing a felony. It is an interesting dynamic and one we have yet to see the ramifications of."
"Kids are trapped and powerless when they are in a car with a drunk driver. This is why the passage of Leandra's Law was so important," Rice said. "Children don't want to get a parent in trouble, but they are increasingly aware of the dangers of drinking and driving."
At schools such as Oakdale-Bohemia, teaching about the dangers of drinking and driving is not limited to high school students who are learning to get behind the wheel for the first time. Students, even those at the elementary level, are taught about the dangers as well.
While most SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) chapters are at the high school and middle school level, the organization also has elementary school chapters, officials there said. And McCoy said MADD has been sending materials and offering programs to all grade levels, including elementary schools, for years.
"I think younger kids are aware and tend to be more moralistic," McCoy said. "They know what they have been told. They know this is wrong. They don't filter it as much as an adult would. As we educate these kids, that is a sign that the message is getting through."
McCoy said MADD will launch a program in the spring called Power of Parents targeted to parents of all grade levels, including elementary school children to help parents communicate with their children about underage drinking.
It's unclear whether Hicks' daughter received any formal lessons about the dangers of drunken driving, but she knew enough to see her mom was driving erratically and told cops the mother was intoxicated, authorities said.