Driving the family car is a rite of passage for many teens. For parents it can represent their child’s first physical step outside of the family nest. Independence. A recent report from our nation’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that overall, teens are taking those initial driving steps more cautiously. Nevertheless, the report warns that convincing teens to stay away from alcohol when they plan to drive remains a battle to be won.
The Good News
The good news from the recent CDC report is that teenage drunk driving has dropped by more than 50 percent over the past 20 years. The finding is based on the Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted between 1991 and 2011. The survey asked teens questions about alcohol use and driving habits over a 30 day period. Back in 1991 around 22 percent of teens said that they drove while they were drunk in the past month. By 2011 that number was down to only 10 percent of teens.
The Bad News
As good as that news may be, there is still plenty of need for improvement. The survey also reported that in 2011 close to a million young people of driving age got behind the wheel after consuming alcohol. That is a frighteningly high number of intoxicated young drivers. The figure is even more worrisome when one considers that teens are at a significantly higher risk (three times greater) of dying or killing someone else in an automobile accident.
The survey also reported:
- In 2010, 20 percent of teens who were in deadly wrecks had alcohol in their system
- More than 80 percent of them had an illegal blood alcohol content level (BAC)
- Teens are part of 2.4 million instances of drunk driving each month
- Six percent of 16 yr old teens drive while drunk each month
- 85 percent of teens who drove while intoxicated said they had consumed five or more drinks
- Risky behaviors such as risky sex, drug or tobacco use, lack of exercise, and behaviors which endanger others were also reported on a monthly basis
There are things which a parent can do to minimize the potential for accident, injury and worse when a teen takes the keys to the car. To begin with, parents can take advantage of the graduated driving laws which exist. Have teens ease into driving privileges. Make sure that everyone in the family always wears a seatbelt. Teach young drivers to expect other drivers to make mistakes and how to become a defensive driver. Emphasize that safe driving means being alert to conditions all around you whether it is road conditions, hazards ahead or behind or other cars. Let your child know that in your family, drivers must never drink alcohol.
Teenagers still have a lot of growing up to do. Learning how to behave responsibly behind the wheel of a car can be an important step in that process. Parents who take the time to talk about responsible driving and who set guidelines which grant incremental driving privileges are helping teens to make the most of the learning opportunity. Fewer teens are drinking and driving, but the battle is far from over.