Teen Driving & Alcohol

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1 discuss alcohol A Resource for Parents & Mentors to Talk to Teens About Alcohol Teen Driving & Alcohol Page 1 of 9

2 discuss alcohol passing the keys to your teen For a teenager, there s hardly anything more exciting than getting behind the wheel for the first time. For a parent, there s hardly anything more frightening. And for good reason driving accidents are the leading cause of death for 15-to 24-yearolds 1. Alcohol is implicated in over a quarter of all cases. 2 This resource will help you address the serious topic of underage drinking and driving with your child. Discuss Alcohol: Teen Driving & Alcohol will help you understand the risks posed by teens behind the wheel and help you, as parents and influential role models, talk with your teen about how to be a safe passenger and a safe driver. Page 2 of 9

3 teens need guidance; they tend to have more accidents than adults The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash. In 2011, over 3,000 teens in the United States aged died in motor vehicle crashes 3. Over half of teen passenger deaths occur when another teen is driving. Having a driver s license gives a teen mobility and freedom talk with your teen about how to be a safe driver and passenger. the rates of motor vehicle accidents among teens There are many reasons why teens are thought to be at increased risk for accidents while driving. Teens are more likely than older drivers to underestimate dangerous situations or not be able to recognize hazardous situations 4. Teens are also more likely than older drivers to speed and allow shorter headways (the distance from the front of one vehicle to the front of the next), and have the lowest rate of seat belt use. In 2011, less than half of 5 fatally injured teen drivers and only a third of fatally injured teen passengers wore seat belts. However, by far the most alarming reason for teens to be 3 involved in motor vehicle collisions is driving after drinking alcohol. While young drivers are less likely than adults to drive after drinking alcohol, their crash risk is substantially higher if they do. This is especially true at low and moderate blood alcohol concentrations (BACs). Even in small quantities, underage drinking combined with teen driving is a dangerous and illegal combination. The effects of intoxication impaired coordination, slowing of reflexes, impaired judgment can be deadly. Of the nearly 5,000 fatal accidents involving teen drivers, 25% of those ages 15 to 20 had been drinking alcohol even though most states have a Zero Tolerance policy for underage drinking and driving. Teen drinking has declined in the past ten years, but it s still common: A recent national survey has shown: 6 By the time they reach 8th grade, 29% of teens have had at least one drink, and almost 13 percent report having been drunk. By senior year in high school, 69 percent of adolescents have tried alcohol, and over half say they have been drunk. 11% of 8th graders, 28% of 10th graders, and 41% of 12th graders reported having one or more drinks in the past 30 days. Alarmingly, 24% of high school seniors reported binge drinking in the past 2 weeks with binge drinking defined as having five or more drinks at one sitting. Page 3 of 9

4 Many teens have a sense of invulnerability they feel that nothing bad will ever happen to them. most teens know drinking and driving is dangerous and illegal, so why do they do it? Adolescence is a stage in which your children are prone to testing limits and taking risks. Many teens engage in risky and oftentimes illegal behavior because they have a sense of invulnerability they feel that nothing bad will ever happen to them. Others may feel motivated by the rewards of engaging in such behavior, like recognition from peers or simply the novelty of it. Teens may also feel pressure from their classmates to put themselves in dangerous situations, and may lack the self-confidence to speak up when they re uncomfortable. Still others may accept a ride from a friend who has been drinking simply because they don t have another option. what has been done to make driving safer for teens? States and municipalities have adopted a variety of measurements to prevent accidents and keep teens safe. For example, federal and state programs have been put together to promote safer cars, seat-belt usage, non-distracted driving and reduced access to alcohol. We encourage discussing your local Zero Tolerance Laws and/or graduate driver s license programs with your teen. Zero Tolerance laws make it illegal for drivers under 21 to operate a vehicle with any alcohol in the blood. When discussing drinking and driving with your teens, this is something to reiterate: teens have the potential to jeopardize their future by breaking the Zero Tolerance Law. Check with your local DMV on the steps your teen needs to achieve an unrestricted license. Guiding your teen to become an educated driver is the best gift you can give them, the gift of confidence and safety. Page 4 of 9

5 starting the conversation on underage drinking and teen driving It is important to start conversations early and to repeat topics over time. While your teen may appear not to be listening, he or she is almost always interested in what you have to say. Verbal communication also isn t the only option your child will learn a great deal from your day-to-day actions too. Model safe driving behaviors, actively limit distractions such as cell phone use, avoid driving while drowsy and drink responsibly. discussions with your early teen ages It s never too early to talk to your child about car safety. Even young children need to know to use a seat belt and to not get into a car with a teen or adult who has been drinking. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in children ages 11 through 14 years. In 2011, 16% of the children ages 14 and younger killed in motor vehicle accidents were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes; in half of these cases, the driver was legally drunk 8. Research has shown that teen driving behaviors are closely related to how their parents drive. This is especially important to think about if your child spends time with brothers and sisters, cousins, or older friends or family members. In addition to discussing the risks of drinking and driving, it may be helpful to role-play with your child. Show them how to ask for help or how to find an alternative ride home if they are in a situation where the driver has been drinking. Encourage them to contact you if they ever feel they are in an unsafe situation. Page 5 of 9

6 Be a role model kids are perceptive and will quickly notice if you say one thing yet do another. discussions with your middle teen ages As your child approaches the middle stages of adolescence, it is important to start talking about driving, its risks and associated responsibilities. Parents need to set clear expectations regarding driving privileges: remind children that for those under 21, underage drinking is illegal and there is a zero tolerance policy for driving after drinking any alcohol. Note that at this stage of development, children will be quick to point out if you are driving after drinking. Set a good example kids are perceptive and will notice if you say one thing yet do another. Your teen will be much more likely to abide by a zero tolerance policy if they see their parents drinking responsibly. talking with your driving teen, ages At this stage, most teens are more mature and better able to understand the risks and consequences of their actions. But though many late adolescents have also moved away from home, making it more difficult for parents to monitor their driving safety, it remains important to talk about safety. Discourage underage drinking and driving and remind them to limit distractions while driving. In addition, it is also helpful to identify alternate modes of transportation, such as nearby taxis, buses or trains. once your child has turned 21 Upon turning 21, young adults may start drinking more because they are now able to purchase alcohol legally. Drinking and driving is still highly dangerous, even when you are of legal age. Parents should continue to discuss the risks with their adult children as well as confirm they have a plan for a safe ride home when they do drink....even with older teens, it is still important to talk about safe driving, not drinking and driving, and not being distracted by taking calls or texting while driving. Page 6 of 9

7 preparing for an evening out ensure a safe ride home At any age, check in with your children before they leave the house, regardless of whether they are going to a big party or hanging out with a few friends. You can ask where they will be, who else will be there, and how they will get to and from the event. Teens are less likely to get into trouble when they know that their parents expect that they will not drink alcohol 9. It s also important to have a back-up safety plan. If your child or their planned ride home has been drinking, he or she may need a safe way to get home. Depending on your location, this may involve offering cab fare or agreeing to pick up your child no questions asked. Remember, there is always time to talk the next day after you have all gotten some sleep. Stress that safety always comes first. conclusion Earning a driver s license is an important milestone in a teenager s life and it s worth celebrating the hard work that goes into it. But instead of treating it as a finish line crossed, remind your teen that it s just the beginning. Each day as a driver, your child will be learning about both the freedoms and responsibilities that come with adulthood. Parents can play an important role in teaching their children to drive safely, to drink responsibly, and to limit distractions. By beginning the conversations early, clearly and regularly communicating expectations, and knowing the facts, you can help your children become responsible on the road and throughout their lives.. Page 7 of 9

8 references 1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2013). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2. Department of Transportation (US), National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. (NHTSA). Traffic Safety Facts, Young Drivers, 2011: overview. Washington (DC): NHTSA;, April Available at 3. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Fatality facts: teenagers Arlington (VA): The Institute; topics/t/teenagers/fatalityfacts/teenagers 4. Jonah BA, Dawson NE. Youth and risk: age differences in risky driving, risk perception, and risk utility. Alcohol, Drugs and Driving 1987;3: Simons-Morton B, Lerner N, Singer J. The observed effects of teenage passengers on the risky driving behavior of teenage drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention 2005;37(6): Johnston, L. D., O Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G. & Schulenberg, J. E. (2013) Monitoring the Future national survey results on drug use, : Volume 1, Secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan 7. Ferguson SA, Williams AF, Chapline JF, et al. Relationship of parent driving records to the driving records of their children. Accid. Annual Prev. 2001; 33(2): Department of Transportation (US), National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. (NHTSA). Traffic Safety Facts 2011: Children. Washington (DC): NHTSA;May Available at: 9. Nash SG, McQueen A, Bray JH. Pathways to adolescent alcohol use: family environment, peer influence and parental expectations. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2005; 37(1): Page 8 of 9

9 author Karen Soren, MD Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Public Health Columbia University Medical Center Director of Adolescent Medicine NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children s Hospital Page 9 of 9

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