In honor of June being National Safety Month, it is important to acknowledge the efforts made nationwide to decrease the rate of teenage drunk driving in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of teenagers who drink and drive has decreased by 54 percent since 1991. This can be attributed to a variety of factors, including stricter law enforcement, driving curfews for minors and increased social awareness surrounding the dangers of drunk driving. However, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, car crashes are still the leading cause of death among teenagers with about 25 percent of fatal crashes involving underage drinking.
This information is based on the self-reports of drinking and driving from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveys from 1991 to 2011 and the blood-alcohol content levels from fatal car crashes involving teenagers throughout the country during these same years. The surveys questioned high school students ages 16 and older regarding whether they had driven after drinking within the past 30 days. In 1991, 22.3 percent of the teens reported having done so, whereas only 10.3 percent reported the same in 2011. Jan Withers, the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) who lost her daughter to a drunk driver, acknowledged the results, stating, “The study is encouraging. It’s evidence that the work we’ve been doing in America to bring the teen drinking-and-driving rate down is working.”
The CDC credits the decrease in teenage drunk driving in part to the drinking age being risen to 21 nationwide. There have also been stricter zero-tolerance laws put into place in various states since the 1990s — and now nationwide — making it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drive under the influence of any amount of alcohol. This makes it a criminal DUI for any minor or young adult under the legal drinking age found driving with alcohol in his or her system. Graduated drivers license (GDL) laws, which dictate the amount of hours teens can drive after dark or whether they can drive with passengers, have also had a profound effect on the amount of fatalities among teen drivers, dropping the amount by nearly 40 percent since 2007.
Social awareness and recognition that drinking and driving is dangerous has undoubtedly impacted the amount of teenagers who drink and drive over the past twenty years. Slogans that have been used in anti-drunk driving campaigns include, “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” and, “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.” These messages, in addition to efforts made by high schools to raise awareness, are coming through to teenagers across the nation.
Many high schools partner with local law enforcement agencies to host drunk driving simulations at high schools, typically timed around prom night in an effort to avoid tragedy. For most schools, prom night also falls during the period referred to as the “100 deadliest days” for teen driving, that is, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A school in New York has not had any student fatalities from drunk driving since it began these simulations in 2012. Another community recently used an “impairment simulator suit” to communicate the message that alcohol greatly reduces an individual’s motor skills.
The fact that the rate of teenagers who drink and drive has been cut in half over the past twenty years proves that the measures taken to instill in minors the importance of not drinking and driving have been effective. However, approximately 2,000 teenagers ages 16 to 19 are still killed each year in car crashes, many of which are the result of underage drinking. The rate of teenage car-related fatalities has likely remained high as a result of the increase in cell phone usage among teenagers while driving, particularly in the past decade.
It is always important to take care of yourself, but even more so during National Safety Month. If you or a loved one is struggling with underage drinking, you are not alone. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in treating adolescents and teenagers struggling with substance abuse, mental health issues and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer