Underage Drinking & the Law

What parents need to know now about the new Social Host Laws

Latest news about teens, drinking and driving: A cause for celebration

[NOTE: This article originally appeared in examiner.com on October 3, 2012.]

Good news for parents of teens: the vast majority of high-school students have learned not to drink before driving. Two major studies released in the past few days agree that far fewer young drivers are drinking before driving. Better still, the rates have been falling for years and are continuing to drop.

Yesterday’s report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) echoes the previous Monday’s report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Both studies collect and analyze their research differently, but both conclude that driving after drinking is increasingly unpopular among high-school students.

The CDC reports that in the month prior to the 2011 survey, 10.3 percent of high school students ages 16 and up said they had at least one drink before getting behind the wheel vs. 22.3 percent who did so in 1991. That means that drinking before driving rates have been cut by more than half (53.8 percent) over the past twenty years. The data was previously reported with the release of the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) this summer but more detail is provided in this new report.

That earlier report, the 2011 YRBS, reports behavior by grade, not age. It demonstrated an equally dramatic 38.3 percent drop since 2001. Specifically by grade, over the past 10 years, 51.8 percent fewer 12th graders, 55.6 percent fewer 11th graders and 52.9 percent fewer 10th graders indicated they had driven in the prior 30 days after having had one or more drinks.

Meanwhile, SAMHSA’s 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (released on September 24, 2012) reports that only 5.2 percent of 16 and 17 year olds drank before driving in the past year, a significant number for two reasons. First, annual figures are usually higher than monthly figures and second, their study shows a decrease of 37.3 percent since their 2005 study, a far shorter period of time than the CDC’s twenty year span.

These studies are supported by the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration’s (NHSTA) recent fatality reports which demonstrate a steep drop in drunk driving fatalities when teens (ages 15-18) were driving. In 2010, of the 9,443 deaths from auto accidents, 310 were due to teens ages 15-18 who drove after drinking according to police reports of alcohol involvement. In 2000, 496 fatalities were due to teen drivers who drank. That’s a drop of 37.5 percent over 10 years. The percent drop in auto fatalities due to teen drivers who drank is even greater than the drop in the total fatalities per 100,000 population, which was 28.5 percent over the same period of time.

Although any alcohol consumption by minors, especially in conjunction with driving, is illegal, the decreases are notable and welcome. A combination of alcohol and drug education in schools, the growth of graduated driving laws for new drivers, the reported decrease in the number of teens who drive and a consistent and dramatic drop in alcohol use by minors are all credited for this change in behavior.

2 comments on “Latest news about teens, drinking and driving: A cause for celebration

  1. JamFest 16
    October 13, 2012

    Thanks for collecting and sharing this enlightening data…interesting.

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