Teen Drinking & Driving - Dumb!

Drinking and driving statistics for teens are lowering in states with strict laws against it

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Teen drinking and driving is a major public health concern.  The fear of consequences does seem to motivate teens to behave. However, over the last 10 years, teen drinking and driving rates has notably decreased.

Researchers have looked at the effectiveness of laws against teen drinking and driving only to discover that they actually do work.

“In other words, a student in a state with the strongest graduated driver's licensing systems (GDL) and use-and-lose laws would be approximately half as likely as a student in a state with the weakest GDL and use-and-lose laws to drive after drinking,” said Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine, the lead author in a recent study looking at teenage drunk driving and driving laws.

"Talk to your teens about drinking and driving today."

Statistical data suggests that graduated driving licensing and use-and-lose laws help teens get used to driving before having unlimited freedom to drive. GDLs gradually give more freedom to young drivers as they age and gain experience behind the wheel. Use-and-lose laws suspend underage driver’s license privileges for any kind of alcohol violation.

Cavazos-Rehg states, “The problem of motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) and fatalities among young drivers cannot be overstated. MVAs are the leading cause of death for youth aged 16-20 years and currently account for more than one in three deaths in this age group. The only other age group with higher crash rates is drivers who are aged 80 or older.”

“While we know that GDLs reduce non-fatal and fatal MVAs among teens, prior to our study it was unknown if GDLs are associated with reduced teen drinking and driving behaviors. We further hypothesized that use-and-lose laws also had the potential to reduce drinking and driving behaviors of youth. This is because use-and-lose laws permit the suspension of drivers’ licenses when youth are caught using alcohol.”

The research team looked at the state laws for GDLs and use-and-lose guidelines and drinking and driving behaviors for 16- and 17-year-old drivers from 1999 to 2009.

Over the 10 years of this study, the GDL and use-and-lose laws improved a great deal. Self-reported drinking and driving at least once in the last 30 days went from 18.1 percent in 1999 to 10.1 percent in 2009. Teens reported riding in a car that was being driven by someone who had been drinking decreased from 34.7 percent in 1999 to 26.3 percent in 2009.

Cavazos-Rehg adds: “The key finding of our study was that states with restrictive GDL laws and use-and-lose laws had fewer youth who reported driving after drinking any alcohol, and riding in a car with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.”

“Obtaining a driver’s license is a milestone for many youth. Clinicians and/or parents of teen drivers should recognize this event as a teachable moment for youth. In doing so, they can capitalize on the opportunity to underscore that safe driving behaviors reflect broader societal and legal expectations as well as those expectations that exist within one’s family.”

This study will be published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, September 2012. Funding for this study was provided by grants from the components and branches of the National Institute of Health; no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 14, 2012
Last Updated:
November 2, 2012