As the parent of a teen, the thought of your teen driving or being in cars with other teen drivers can be one of the scariest you face. Teen drivers lack a lot of experience, and there are distractions such as texting. Beyond that, even more terrifying can be the thought of your teen drinking or driving or being in the car with someone who is.
There are legal issues related to drinking and driving, and the safety risks that can, unfortunately, lead to death all-too-often.
So what, as a parent, should you know about teens drinking and driving?
The Facts and Statistics
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, although they are largely preventable. The following are some key statistics about teens and driving in general, as well as drinking and driving.
- Teens are four times more likely to either be injured in a motor vehicle crash or die than older people
- Males are twice as likely as females to die or receive an injury in a car crash
- The majority of teen crashes occur on weekends
- Teens are more likely to ride with an intoxicated driver or drive after using drugs or alcohol than older drivers. Teen drivers are also more likely to speed, make illegal turns and go through red lights.
- The effects of alcohol tend to be more significant on teens than on older people so one drink for a teen can be much more significant than one drink for someone older.
- Alcohol-related crashes peaks during the night and on weekends for teens
An estimated 3000 teens die every year in drunk driving accidents. The rate of alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents is higher for drivers ranging in age from 16 to 20 than it is for adults over the age of 21.
Most states have introduced what are called zero-tolerance laws as it relates to teen drinking and driving. Zero-tolerance laws mean that if teens are caught with any alcohol in their system—even a negligible amount—they are arrested for a DUI. Most states set their zero-tolerance law at 0.02.
Most states also have administrative drunk driving laws for teens meaning that if a minor drives with any alcohol in his or her system, their license is automatically suspended or revoked.
The specific consequences and punishments for teens arrested and found guilty of DUI depend on the state, but are usually harsher than penalties for first-time offenders who are adults. Many times a teen DUI charge will also come with other charges such as possessing alcohol or possessing a fake or altered ID.
In some states a teen who is convicted of DUI may face up to a year in jail, and if a teen is involved in a drunk driving accident, or they’ve been caught more than once they will almost certainly get jail time. Probation of 3-5 years is another possible punishment for teen drunk driving.
There are social consequences of being convicted of a DUI as a teen, as well as the legal consequences. For example, this has to be includedin college applications, and it can prevent a teen from studying something such as law or education.
How Can You Prevent Your Teen From Drinking and Driving?
With all of the scary statistics and information, you may wonder how you can prevent your teen from drinking and driving.
One of the most important things is to focus on open, honest communication. Rather than trying to be an authoritarian, try to create a relationship with your teen that allows them to speak with you and share their concerns or what may be going on in their life.
You can also help your teen understand that you don’t condone underage drinking, but that if it does occur there are options, such as rideshare services or having a parent pick them up.
If you suspect your teen has engaged in drinking and driving, you may want to consider a program such as what’s offered by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) that will allow them to learn more about the consequences and hear real-life stories about people who are affected by drinking and driving. Many times bad things seem like they’re never going to happen when you’re a teen, and you feel invincible, and it can be valuable to help teens understand the weight of their decisions, particularly when it comes to driving and drinking.
Parents have more influence over their teens’ decisions than they might believe.