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Teenage Drunk Driving
Do you like scary statistics? How's this: Every 22 minutes someone dies in an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident.

Want another one? On any given weekend evening, one out of ten drivers on America's roads has been drinking.

Want one more? According to the latest statistics, the prospect of you or someone in your family being involved in an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident is more than just very likely ... it's a virtual certainty.

Most horrible of all is the fact that a disproportionately high number of alcohol-related deaths and accidents involve the 15-24 age group. A lot of young people are, in fact, dying before they get old ... dying tragic, meaningless deaths.

What's Going on Here?
"It is a sign of the times" ... "The pressures of growing up in modern society" ... Call it what you will. The fact of the matter is that studies have shown, among other things:

  • One out of ten children ages 12-13 uses alcohol at least once a month.
  • In a single year, 522 children under 14 were arrested for driving while intoxicated. 113 of them were under 10 years old.
  • 70% of all teenagers drink alcohol.
  • 60% of all teen deaths in car accidents are alcohol-related.

There are all kinds of explanations for the disproportionately high numbers of teenage alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents; explanations that range from the false notion of "teenage invincibility" to the increase in personal freedoms (i.e., reaching the legal age for driving and later, drinking). For some, allowing or encouraging a drunk to drive seems funny. And, of course, there's the "I can handle it" syndrome, where the person figures they can "hold" their liquor or that they haven't had enough to seriously impair their judgment and performance.

However, few people realize the effect a mere drink or two can have on their system. For instance, teenage boys with a blood alcohol level of .05-.10 (a figure below what most states consider legally drunk) are 18 times more likely to become involved in a single-vehicle crash than their non-drinking counterparts. Teenage girls at the same levels are an incredible 54 times more likely to crash.

Perhaps the greatest influence on teenagers and their drinking and driving habits is peer pressure. Peer pressure doesn't have to be overt. It can be very subtle. And because it is so important for teens to feel "in," peer pressure, subtle or overt, is a very powerful force.

Why Would There Be Pressure to Drink and Drive?
Certainly, almost no one pressures someone to drink and drive. It just happens. A person who is driving gets "pulled in" by the overwhelming pressure to drink. Or, in some cases, the driver doesn't realistically consider the consequences of his or her drinking and later getting behind the wheel ("teenage invincibility"). For some drivers, peer pressure causes them to mistakenly "minimize" the effect alcohol has on their driving abilities. Either way, the results are all too often lethal.

What's Being Done?
Several states have lowered the legal blood alcohol limit to .08 (from .10). Also, in recent years, every state in the union has raised the drinking age to 21 years old.

A U.S. General Accounting Office report showed that raising the drinking age reduced teen traffic accidents significantly and brought about a 13% decrease in fatal traffic accidents for all ages. In addition, studies have indicated that denying alcohol to teenagers also causes a decrease in young people's (vs. all age groups) consumption of other drugs. Apparently, there is a correlation between teen drinking (and cigarette smoking) and the use of "harder" drugs.

In addition, more than 20 states now implement a program where first-time offenders (or those refusing to take a breathalyzer test) are forced to face a panel of drunk driving victims' families. It's an emotional lesson in the pain and loss suffered by the innocents and their families.

Other programs include laws placing increased liability on bars, parents, and others caught dispensing liquor to minors or continuing to dispense alcohol to anyone who has already had "enough."

A giant step in the continuing battle to save lives has been "SafeRides" programs. On weekends, volunteers wait for calls from teens too intoxicated to drive, who need a ride home. Here, teen drinking is not treated as a "moral" issue. It's taken for the reality that it is, and that has helped make these programs tremendously successful.

In the same vein, Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) has come up with the "Contract for Life," signed by parents and their children. The teens promise to call home if they or the person doing the driving has been drinking. In exchange, the parents promise to pick them up, no questions asked until later.

And finally, to combat peer pressure, Hollywood is getting into the act. A number of studios and production companies and The Writer's Guild of America have encouraged Hollywood's writers to include in their movie and television scripts, references to the desirability of staying sober or of at least using a "designated driver," i.e., member of a group who agrees to drive and stay sober. It's a well-recognized fact that the entertainment industry is a very prevalent socializing force in America. As our favorite movies and television shows constantly remind us of the dangers, stupidity, and social undesirability of drunk driving, this concept should become "second-nature" to the American viewing public. The idea is that if peer pressure can cause people to drink and drive, it can also help to prevent people from drinking and driving.

It's Working
Most of the anti-drunk driving programs we've mentioned have only been in place for the past few years, but the results are persuasive -- drunk driving accidents and fatalities are declining. The tide is turning. People are beginning to recognize the recklessness and sheer stupidity of driving after drinking ... that you don't have to be ''legally drunk" to be seriously impaired.

Before leaving the subject of drinking and driving, here's another statistic for you: As a drinking driver, you're four times more likely to crash and be killed or injured than you are to be arrested for exceeding the legal blood alcohol limits. So if you're concerned about being caught driving drunk, think again. There's an even better chance you might be caught dead.

We're happy to report that drunk driving is no longer socially acceptable. There's nothing cute or funny about a drunk getting behind the wheel. Not when someone with a blood alcohol level of .15 (4 to 7 drinks in an hour for the average teen) is 380 times more likely to die in a single-vehicle crash (driving through a guard rail, into a tree, etc.) than a sober person. Fortunately, everyone is beginning to pitch in. To paraphrase the commercial, "Friends aren't letting friends drive drunk."

What You Can Do
There's still more to do. Get involved. If there's a "SafeRides" program in your area, participate and encourage your friends, children, parents and others to do likewise. If there isn't a "SafeRides" program, organize one. Contact SADD for information about "The Contract for Life." And if there isn't a SADD chapter in your area, start one. All too often, these kinds of programs get started only after a tragedy occurs. Don't wait! Prevent that tragedy now, before it's too late. Only with everyone pitching in, can we truly put a stop to the senseless destruction that drinking and driving causes to lives and property.

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