Drinking, driving, and your teen

Everyone has had a bad case of spring fever, but when you’re a teenager looking forward to graduation, prom, or summer in general, it can seem especially challenging. And although the parties that accompany the end of the school year are something to look forward to, sometimes danger lurks on the horizon.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), approximately one-third of all traffic crash fatalities in the United States involve drunk drivers (with blood alcohol concentrations of .08 or higher). And although teen drinking and driving has decreased over the last decade, car crashes are still the leading cause of death for teens, and about a quarter of those crashes involve an underage, intoxicated driver.

What works — and what doesn’t

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 85 percent of high-school teens who report drinking and driving in the past month also admitted to binge drinking, or having more than five alcoholic beverages in the space of two hours. As scary as that is to parents, there are ways to discourage underage drinking and driving, and it usually begins at home.

  • Be honest. Hey, it’s not easy admitting that it’s possible your kid could find him or herself at a party with a drink in hand, and it’s even tougher to imagine them actually getting behind the wheel. But according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), only one in 100 parents believe that their teen binge drinks, but one in seven teens do it. Instead of giving your kids a list of what not to do, try creating a “safe zone.” Make sure your teen knows he or she can count on your patience and understanding should they get into a precarious situation. Knowing they won’t be punished for calling for help can help them make better decisions down the road.
  • Live by example. In other words, don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t let your kids see you have a drink — yes, even one — and get behind the wheel. If you have a social engagement or even just need to run to the store but have had a few, make sure you’re living by example and either designating a sober driver or calling a ride service. And when you do, have a conversation about it later.
  • Resist the “cool” label. Yeah, we get it. Most parents want to appear hip to their teenagers and their friends, but don’t let that come at a price. You may have heard your friends say, “Well, isn’t it safer and easier to let Joey drink at home with his friends instead of somewhere else?” Perhaps, if jail time, exorbitant legal fees, and risking children’s lives seems “easier.” No matter what, the legal drinking age is 21. Period.
  • Consider being a sober host. Teens will likely see their fair share of after-prom and graduation party invites after the last of the snow melts. Why not offer to throw the shindig at your place? An alcohol-free event can still be a lot of fun — consider hiring a student DJ or band and providing all the junk food your kid and their friends can hold. And, of course, plenty of ice cold beverages — just not the beer and wine cooler varieties.

For more information

All teenagers are fairly new to driving. Discover how you can make the introduction a little less intimidating with Grinnell Mutual’s Auto Safety Tips and Resources.