Back To School: Are Teens and Drunk Driving Still a Problem?

When your teen starts the new school semester, there are many worries that tend to cross your mind as a parent. One of the top concerns for parents is underage drinking. Unfortunately, too many teens drink illegally. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that those aged 12 to 20 years old drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States. To boot, over 90 percent of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinking.

Because this is a prevalent issue for teens, it’s an important one to address at the start of the school year. For teenagers, back to school is often accompanied by more social interaction and events, opening the door to the possibility of risky behavior both in general and behind the wheel.

Teens and Drunk Driving: The Statistics

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 29 people die each day in the U.S. due to alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes (as of data from 2016). That means that a death occurs every 50 minutes.

Data from 2016 suggests that alcohol-impaired driving fatalities are on the decline since measured 25 years prior in 1991. The rate of drunk driving fatalities per 100,000 population in 2016 decreased 49 percent nationally and 68 percent among those under 21. With that being said, though, in 2016 alcohol-related fatalities still accounted for 28 percent of all traffic-related deaths, resulting in an excess of 10,000 deaths each year.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that young people abuse alcohol more than any other substance, and that 12- to 20-year-olds make up greater than 10 percent of America’s alcohol consumption. Furthermore, teens are more likely to binge drink. According to the CDC, high school students drive intoxicated approximately 2.4 million times a month, putting them at a 17 percent higher risk of being involved in a fatal car crash whenever alcohol is coursing through their veins.

The NHTSA conducted research that showed that that those ages 16 to 20 are involved in 3.6 percent more crashes than they were in 2015. Alcohol plays a part in more than a third of fatal motor vehicle crashes among that age group. Furthermore, the alcohol-related fatality rate for those ages 18, 19, and 20 are nearly twice as high as the fatality rate for those over the age of 21. And although young drivers are less likely to drive after consuming alcohol, the crash risks of that age group are substantially higher when they do get behind the wheel after drinking.

Just like the issue of texting and driving, drunk driving is accompanied by a host of traits and symptoms that impair a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle. Besides being illegal, it puts the driver, passengers, and others on the road at risk. The judgement, reflexes, and coordination of anyone under the influence of alcohol are compromised. Furthermore, alcohol slows reaction time, alters the depth of perception, reduces peripheral vision, causes confusion and drowsiness, and causes a lack of awareness of one’s surroundings. These symptoms are dangerous for anyone, but are especially so for a new driver.

back to school teens and drunk driving

Teens Driving: The 100 Deadliest Days

As a parent, you may have heard of “The 100 Deadliest Days” for teens. This is a particularly dangerous time for teen drivers, referring to the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day. In this time, an average of 10 people per day are killed due to teen driver crashes.

According to research conducted by AAA, both speed and nighttime driving are factors that contribute to the number of summertime crashes for teen drivers. 36 percent of motor vehicle fatalities involving a teen driver occur between 9:00 pm and 5:00 am. During these 100 deadliest days, data shows a 22 percent increase in the average number of nighttime crashes per day involving teen drivers as compared to the rest of the year. Additionally,  29 percent of all motor vehicle deaths involving a teen driver were speed-related.

It can be easy to associate this time of year only with summer, the reality is that it expands into the beginning of the school year. This frightening time also serves as a reminder of how important it is to protect your teen against the dangers of driving throughout the entirety of the school year, too. As teens are reunited with their friends, don’t let weekend evenings turn into a threat to your child’s safety. Remember that regardless of the time of year, when teens go out with friends, there is the chance for both drinking and distracted driving to occur.

back to school teens and drunk driving

Teens and Safe Driving: What to Do About It

Now that you understand the scope of the problem, you’re probably wondering what you should do about it to ensure that your new driver stays safe on the road.

First, talking about the dangers of drinking and driving with your teen regularly is a good jumping off point. Research suggests, in fact, that a lack of conversations surrounding this topic with your teen can be interpreted as an indifference towards the topic, causing your teen to be more likely to illegally consume alcohol.

And while you surely want to discourage your teen from underage drinking, it’s also important to discuss with them their options for getting a safe ride should they drink. Let them know it’s safe for them to call you for a ride, set them up with a rideshare account, and keep the lines of communication open regarding this topic so that they feel comfortable coming to you in the event that they need a safe way to get home. Some parents and teens even come up with a “code” to be used if the teen calls and needs a ride. This mitigates the risk of them being embarrassed if their friends overhear the conversation.

Finally, experts suggest limiting your teen’s driving on weekend evenings. While drunk driving contributes to more than one in four motor vehicles fatalities across kids, teens, and young adults, nearly half of these deaths happen on nights or weekends. Limiting your teens time behind the wheel during these dangerous times can help prevent the risk of drunk driving when it is most likely.

Keeping your teen driver safe, particularly during an infamously dangerous time of year to be behind the wheel, may feel like a lot of pressure. Have frequent and frank conversations with your teen about the consequences of drunk and distracted driving or consider enlisting in the help of technology that ensures a teen is focused solely on the road when behind the wheel.

Focus by Teen Drive allows parents to block apps and will soon have the capability to send alerts about your teens driving habits and provide location information. These features hold teens accountable to practicing safe driving habits. Exploring these different strategies helps to keep your teen safe and simultaneously provides parents the peace of mind they crave as their teen develops confidence behind the wheel.

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