Teenage Drinking and Driving

Young drivers are a high-risk group, partially because they are young and just learning the rules, but that is not the only reason. Young drivers often think they are invincible; that the crashes caused by teenage drinking and driving reported on the news will never happen to them.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the youngest drivers are less likely to drive after drinking, but are more likely to crash when they do, because of inexperience with both alcohol and driving and the combination of the two.

In 2003, 27 percent of 16-20-year-old passenger vehicle drivers fatally injured in crashes had high BACs (0.08 percent or more). The percentage of high BACs was much lower among females (13 percent) than among males (33 percent), and also was lower among 16-17-year-old drivers (16 percent) than among 18-19-year-old (30 percent) or 20-year-old (35 percent) drivers.

In many high schools, students come face to face with the effects of teenage drinking and driving, with presentations from groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), or Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). These education programs help to raise awareness.

The federal government has taken steps in the past decade to bring attention to the issue, and there are consequences for young drivers charged with drinking and driving. In many states, a teenager will lose their license for a period of a year or longer if they are convicted of driving while intoxicated.

On November 28, 1995, President Clinton signed legislation that included a provision forcing states to adopt and enforce a "zero tolerance" policy against teenage drinking and driving. Since that legislation's inception, "zero tolerance" policies have been criticized, saying that such policies are unfair because they may unfairly punish an innocent teenager who may be driving an intoxicated friend home or because they are in the same area as a teen who has been drinking.

It seems that zero tolerance policies may not be all bad however. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, studies of zero tolerance laws indicate they reduce crashes in [the 13-19] age group. A study of 12 states passing zero tolerance laws reported a 20 percent reduction in the proportion of fatal crashes that were single-vehicle nighttime events (crashes likely to involve alcohol impairment) among drivers ages 15-20.

Alcohol and a teenage driver is a very dangerous combination, one that may be avoided through parental involvement and education.

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More information on teenage drinking and driving

A hand-held breathalyzer would allow you to test your teenager and prevent drunk driving.