Drunk Driving: Studies and Prevention

In the United States, 12.8% of all fatal traffic crashes were alcohol-related, and 40% of that number involved teens driving while drinking alcohol. Car accidents are the number one killer of adolescents and many of those accidents involve alcohol. Surprisingly, a recent study (ScienceDaily, Feb. 18) reported that the rate of alcohol-related fatal car crashes has risen among some populations of female drivers, a worrying trend that runs counter to the decline in such crashes among young men. Researchers also found that the proportion of female drivers involved in fatal alcohol-involved crashes was higher than for males.

Why do teens drive drunk?

Sadly, more than five million American high school students binge drink at least once per month. With thoughts that they are not “that” drunk, that they are too scared to call their parents to get a safe ride home, or that they don’t want to anger their friends by refusing to get in the car, these teenagers often hit the road — a recipe for disaster for themselves, their passengers, and any innocent motorists who get in their path.

How can teens help each other?

  • Be smarter and safer by organizing carpools or limousines for prom nights and other school parties.
  • If you are out with a group of friends, be sure to have a designated driver, someone who pledges not to drink at all.
  • Ask a student who has been involved in an alcohol-related accident to speak to your club or even a school assembly about its consequences.
  • Suggest that parents and teachers run a hotline on prom night. If students have trouble getting to or from the dance or are riding with someone who’s been drinking, they can call for a safe ride with no questions asked.
  • Ask your school to host fun, alcohol-free parties after prom and graduation.
  • When you’re old enough to buy beer, wine and liquor, don’t buy it for younger people. You’re not doing them any favors. It’s illegal, and you could get a criminal record.
  • Download a copy of the Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) “Contract for Life,” a fair, two-way agreement in which teenagers promise to call for a safe ride home if they should find themselves in a potentially destructive situation. In return, parents agree to withhold discussion about the situation until a later, calmer time.

How can parents help prevent teenage drunk driving?

Parents can try to teach teens to do the right things, but unfortunately, once they are out of your sight you don’t know what they are doing. No teen is exempt from the threat of drinking and driving. It doesn’t matter if he is a good student, captain of the football team, class president, etc. All it takes is one slip-up to ruin lives.

Here are some tips for parents to help prevent your teen from experiencing an alcohol-related accident.

  • Never condone underage drinking. Never serve alcohol to minors.
  • Know the details when your teen leaves the home: where are they going, who is going with them, what transportation are they using, and when will they be back.
  • Have curfews and always wait up for your teen. Have a brief conversation with him about his night. Watch for signs of drinking (slurred speech, inability to focus eyes, swaying movement when walking, etc.).
  • Don’t allow your teen to spend the night at a “friend’s” you don’t know or places where you know the parents don’t supervise the kids.
  • Tell your teen you will pick her up if he/she can’t drive or doesn’t have a ride. But don’t count on this; many teens are too intimidated by your potential reaction.
  • Teach your teen to be a safe passenger. Remember that 50 percent of teens who die in car accidents are passengers not drivers. Tell your teen to never ride with anyone who has been drinking, even if he doesn’t seem drunk.
  • Never let your teen see you drunk or drive after a couple drinks.
  • Teach them the potential cost of their actions. Let your teen know that underage drinking is dangerous and unacceptable. Besides the obvious consequences of death and crippling injuries, talk to him about the economic consequences (what happens if he gets a DUI). The entire family can be cancelled from insurance. He will lose his license and receive enormous fines. It will be on his record for a very long time, ruining the possibility of scholarships, job opportunities, admission to some colleges, etc.

Another good resource for parents is to download and read a copy of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) brochure “Underage Drinking: You Can Prevent It When They’re Under Your Influence.

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