EHS OutLoud Blog
the dangers of teen drinking and driving

Teen Drinking and Driving: A Family Nightmare

Perhaps one of the greatest fears a parent can have is to receive a late-night call from the local law enforcement agency notifying you that a vehicle registered to your household has been in a serious accident. Even more terrifying is the notification of reported injuries, among them the driver ... your teenager.

As you leave for the scene of the accident, your thoughts race, worried about the outcome and extent of the injuries to all involved. Simultaneously, you replay the day’s events: Where did he go? Who was he with? What could have happened? Were there fatalities?

As more information is available, you are informed that your teen is being charged with a driving under the influence (DUI) and a reckless driving citation. Additional citations are pending. Parental shock sets in.

While you might think this would never happen to your family, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that “nearly one million high school teens drank alcohol and got behind the wheel in 2011.” CDC further reports that “teen drivers are 3 times more likely than more experienced drivers to be in a fatal crash.”

In its October 2012 “Vital Signs” report, "Teen Drinking and Driving – A Dangerous Mix,” CDC highlights that one in 10 teens drink and drive according to its surveys. That number represents a 54 percent drop since 1991. While we are doing much better, we need not raise the victory flag as of yet.

Sobering Statistics

According to the CDC report, U.S. high school teens admit to driving after drinking about 2.4 million times a month. Several states have double-digit percentage numbers of teens 16 and older who admit to drinking and driving. These are unacceptable numbers any way you look at them.

Why is this happening? One can only speculate given the complexity of the issue. CDC, however, has several recommendations for states and localities, health professionals, teens and parents alike. These recommendations include:

  • Strengthen enforcement of existing policies, such as minimum legal drinking age, zero tolerance laws and graduated driver licensing systems.
  • Encourage parents of new teen drivers to set and enforce the rules of the road and consider tools like parent-teen driving agreements.
  • Teens should refuse to ride in a car with a teen driver who has been drinking.
  • Parents should lead as examples of safe drivers.
  • Parents should provide teens with a safe way to get home (such as picking them up or paying for a cab) if their driver has been drinking.

Action Despite Perception

Perhaps the best precaution is action despite perception. As parents, we tend to filter many of our children’s behaviors, especially if we do not observe them ourselves. At times, and perhaps unknowingly, we err on the side of denial for a multitude of reasons. Teen drinking is one of those overarching issues that must be addressed even if it does not seem as if it needs to be addressed.

Even if you can’t imagine your teen drinking and driving, airing on the side of safety likely will make the difference. Talk to your teenagers about the risks of drinking and driving and follow CDC’s tips. Your teen’s life, and that of someone else’s, may be saved. Not to mention that you’ll avoid the psychological and financial consequences that drinking and driving can bestow upon your family.

Oftentimes, the things we take for granted are the things that are less secure. So avoid this nightmare and encourage teens to drive safe and sober – always.

TAGS: Safety
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