Alcohol and the Young Driver
How Big of a Problem is it and What Can We Do?
The answer to that question is complex. There are some very alarming numbers to look at, but there also are some encouraging signs. Let’s start by looking at the numbers:
According the CDC, young people between the ages of 15 – 24 make up about 14% of the population, but represent 28%- 30% of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries. True, this is for all accidents and not just alcohol related injuries, but it does show that in aggregate, this age group accounts for twice as many auto injuries as the other age groups.
Teens were responsible for approximately 2.4 million episodes of drinking and driving a month in 2011 according to the CDC. The report goes on to say that 85% of the students who admitted to drinking and driving also participated in binge drinking in the last 30 days (five or more drinks).
The scary truth is that teens are 17 times more likely to die in an accident, when alcohol is involved. So where is the silver lining? The good news is that things are trending in the right direction:
10.3% of teens reported drinking and driving in 2011, compared to 22.3% in 1991. That’s a drop of approximately 54% in the last 20 years. No doubt that this decrease has saved thousands of lives.
And, there are some things you can do to help minimize the risk and impact of this issue on your teens.
Wear Seat Belts – In 2010, 56% of drivers aged 15 – 20 who died in drinking and driving crashes were not wearing a seat belt. Many lives could be saved if all teens in the vehicle wore seat belts regardless of other factors.
Be Aware of the Day and Time – In 2010, half of teen deaths from automobile accidents occurred between 3 pm and midnight and 55% occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Pay extra attention to where your teen is going and who is driving on the weekends.
Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) – Most states have some form of GDL’s that are designed to place restrictions on teen drivers while they gain experience and confidence. These restrictions include curfews and limits on the number of people in the vehicle. Know your states rules and make sure that your teen abides by them. Here is a general list of rules by state, but you should check your own state’s department of transportation for a complete list of restrictions. http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/license_laws.html
Communicate – Speak frankly with your teens about the dangers. Walk through scenarios they may face and give them guidance on how best to handle them. Let them know that they don’t have to drink just because everyone else is, and they don’t have to get into a car with drunk driver because the rest of the group is. CNN published a great article last fall that advised parents to communicate to teens with stories, not statistics. Here is the article. http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/10/us/cnnheroes-underage-drunken-driving/index.html
It seems that a lot of the efforts from driver’s education programs, GDL programs and organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have had a very positive impact on the number of teens drinking and driving. There is still a lot more work to do though.