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Drinking and Driving

Scary Statistics
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.
  • 27,472 drivers were fatally injured in a traffic accident in 2005. 31% of these accidents were caused by the driver being legally drunk (having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or more.). That's over 8,000 lives lost due to drunk-driving in one year alone and that statistic doesn't include pasengers or pedestrians who also lost their life in an accident due to drunk driving.
  • Every 22 minutes someone dies in an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident.
  • On any given weekend evening, one in 10 drivers on America’s roads has been drinking.
  • In a family of five, the chance that someone in the family will find themselves in an alcohol-related motor vehicle crash in their lifetime, is an astounding 200 percent.
  • A high number of those deaths and accidents come in the 15 to 24 age group. A lot of young people are, in fact, dying before they get old …dying tragic, meaningless deaths.
  • In 2005, almost 3,000 drunk drivers ages 16 through 20 were in fatal motor vehicle crashes.

What's Going On Here?

Sign of the times …The pressures of growing up in modern society …Call it what you will. The fact is that studies have shown:

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

Driving involves multiple tasks, the demands of which can change continually. To drive safely, one must maintain alertness, make decisions based on ever-changing information present in the environment, and execute maneuvers based on these decisions. Drinking alcohol impairs a wide range of skills necessary for carrying out these tasks.

Why such a high number of teenagers?

It’s hard to say. There are several explanations for the disproportionately high numbers of teenage alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents - explanations that range from the false notion on "teenage invincibility" to the increase in personal freedoms (i.e. reaching the legal ages for driving and later, for drinking). For some, letting or encouraging an intoxicated person 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 them. 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 the legally drunk limit) are a staggering 18 times more likely to suffer 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’s 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 then getting behind the wheel ("teenage invincibility"). And, of course as we said earlier, 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?
Fortunately, plenty. Several states have lowered the legally drunk Blood Alcohol limit to .08 from .10. Also, in recent years, every state has raised the drinking age to 21 years old. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Report of 1995 showed that almost all recent studies proved that raising the drinking age reduced teen traffic accident statistics significantly, and brought about a 13 percent decrease in fatal traffic accidents for all ages. In addition, studies have indicated that denying alcohol to teenagers also causes a decrease in the consumption of other drugs. Apparently, there is a correlation between teen drinking (and cigarette smoking) and the use of "harder" drugs. It’s not a statistic popular with a lot of people, but nonetheless, it’s been proven.

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 drunken driving victim’s families. They come face-to face (literally) with the bereaved families of the victims. It’s an emotional lesson in the pain and loss suffered by families.

Other programs include laws placing increased liability on bars, parents and others caught dispensing liquor to minors or continuing to dispense alcohol to those who have 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 rides home. Here, teen drinking is not treated as a "moral" issue. It’s taken for the reality that it is, and as such, has been tremendously successful. In the same vein, Students Against Drunk Driving, SADD, has come up with the "Contract for Life". The "Contract" is a document signed by parents and their children. The teens promise to call home if they or the person driving them 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" (where one member of a group agrees to drive and stay sober for the night). 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, here, is that if Peer Pressure can cause people to drink and drive, it should also be able to prevent people from drinking and driving.

And Finally....
Most of the anti-drunk driving programs we’ve mentioned have only been in place for the past few years, but the results are conclusive …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, and that you don’t have to be "legally drunk" to be seriously impaired. While on the subject of "legally drunk," 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 limits of D.U.I. So if you’re concerned about being caught driving drunk, think again … there’s an even better chance you might be caught dead.

There’s nothing cute or funny about an intoxicated person getting behind the wheel. Not when someone with a Blood Alcohol level of .15 (about four to seven drinks per hour for the average teen) is 380 times more likely to die in a single vehicle crash than a sober person. Fortunately, everyone is beginning to pitch in. To paraphrase the commercial, "Friends aren’t letting friends drive drunk."

Get Involved
There are many organizations that provide students with prevention and intervention tools to deal with the issues of underage drinking and impaired driving. Below is a list of links:

* Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD)

* Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
* Bikers Against Drunk Driving (BADD)
* Safe Ride
* Foundation for Ashley's Dream
* Young Adults Educating Responsible Driving (YAERD)

Don’t wait! Prevent a 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.

Some information on this page has been extracted from the following online resources:
Teenage Drunk Driving

What do you think about people who drink and drive? How many alcohilic drinks do you think it would take to impair your driving judgement? Do you think that the laws regarding this topic are tough or not tough enough? Do you have any stories to share about this topic?
Discuss these questions and opinions in the Drinking and Driving Forum

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