Teen Drinking and Driving: A Dangerous Mix

The mission of the Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition is to positively impact the well-being of Novato youth through community action, policy advocacy and education.

The percentage of teens who drink and drive has decreased by more than half since 1991, but more can be done. Nearly 1 million teens drank alcohol and got behind the wheel in 2011. Teen drivers are three times more likely than experienced drivers to be in a fatal crash. Add alcohol to that — and the numbers rise even higher.

The California Healthy Kids Survey reports that 42 percent of Novato 11th graders report binge drinking* in the last 30 days**. That is almost TWICE the California state average of 24 percent. The same survey reported that 30 percent of Novato fifth-graders have tried alcohol**.

Research shows factors which help to keep teens safe include parental involvement, minimum legal drinking age and zero tolerance laws as well as graduated licensing systems.  These proven steps can protect the lives of more young drivers and everyone who shares the road with them.

Drinking and driving is deadly, especially for teens.

High school teens drink and drive about 2.4 million times per month.

No less than 85 percent of teens in high school who report drinking and driving in the last month also say the binge drank.

One in five teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had some alcohol in their system in 2010. Most of these drivers (81 percent of them) had blood-alcohol concentration*** higher than the legal limit for adults.

Research shows what has worked: Preventing Teen Drinking and Driving

Minimum Legal Drinking Age: Laws in every state make it illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under age 21. Research has shown that enforcement of MLDA laws using alcohol retailer compliance checks has reduced alcohol sales to those under the legal drinking age.

Zero Tolerance: Laws in every state make it illegal for those under the age of 21 to drive after drinking ANY alcohol. Research has demonstrated that these laws have reduced underage drinking and driving crashes involving teens. Research has also shown that parents who have a zero alcohol use policy with their teens are less likely to drink during their teen years as well.

Graduated Driver Licensing: systems help new drivers get more experience under less risky conditions. As teens move through stages, they gain privileges, such as driving at night or driving with passengers. Each state has GDL, but specific rules vary. Research shows that GDL systems prevent crashes and save lives.

Parental Involvement: With a focus on monitoring and restricting what new drivers are allowed to do, helps keep new drivers safe as they learn to drive. Parents can consider creating and signing a parent-teen driving agreement with their teens. Research has shown when parents establish and enforce “rules of the road,” new drivers report lower rates of risky driving, traffic violations and crashes.


Communities can:

  • Increase awareness among teens and parents. Attend community coalition meetings and join groups working to address underage drinking issues in Novato.
  • Strengthen enforcement of existing policies, such as minimum legal drinking age and zero tolerance laws, and graduated driver licensing systems.
  • Change the norms around acceptance of alcohol consumption. 39 percent of Novato adults report binge drinking in the last 30 days.

Pediatricians and Healthcare Professionals can:

Screen teens for risky behaviors including the following:

  • Using alcohol, drugs or other substances
  • Driving after alcohol or other drug use
  • Riding with a driver who has been using alcohol or other drugs

Educate teens and parents about the risks of drinking and driving.

Encourage parents of new teen drivers to set and enforce “rules of the road” and consider creating a parent-teen driving agreement.

Remind parents to lead by example as safe drivers, starting even before their child is old enough to drive.

Teens Can:

  • Choose to never drink and drive
  • Refuse to ride in a car with a teen driver who has been drinking
  • Know and follow the state’s GDL laws
  • Follow their “rules of the road” in their parent-teen driving agreement
  • Always wear a seatbelt, even if it’s only a short distance
  • Obey speed limits
  • Never use a cell phone or text while driving

Parents can:

  • Understand that drinking alcohol is as a teen is not a rite of passage
  • Recognize the dangers of teen drinking and driving and that teen drivers are at a much greater risk of an accident after drinking than adults
  • Model safe driving behavior
  • Consider creating a parent-teen driving agreement to set and enforce “rules of the road” for new drivers. Safe driving habits for teens include the following:
  • Never drink and drive
  • Follow GDL laws
  • Wear a seatbelt on every trip
  • Limit nighttime driving
  • Set a limit on the number of teen passengers
  • Never use a cell phone or text while driving
  • Obey speed limits

Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

 Note: Binge drinking is considered 4+ drinks in a 2 hour period for women, or 5+ drinks in a 2 hour period for men.

** Sources:  California Healthy Kids Survey, 2007 and 2009.

*** Blood alcohol concentration. It is illegal for adults to drive with a BAC of .08% or higher. It is illegal for anyone under age 21 to drive after drinking any alcohol in all US states.

The mission of the Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition is to positively impact the well-being of Novato youth through community action, policy advocacy and education. This shall be accomplished by: 1) reducing alcohol and marijuana use, and 2) reduce incidences of bullying.

For more information regarding the Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition for Youth, contact Nikki Buckstead at 415-798-5329 or nikki@NovatoBlueRibbon.org.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

bryan farley November 23, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Brent, There is an inspiring program called Impact Teen Drivers http://www.impactteendrivers.org/ where real survivors talk to teens. Parents and family members who have lost loved ones speak to students. Drivers who have caused death also speak. First responders are also represented. I have watched two presentations (assembly?). This is not every 15 minutes.
Tina McMillan November 23, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Bryan What a great resource. Thank you for sharing it.
Steven Norwin November 24, 2012 at 02:24 AM
Chester, your post is the one that doesn't contribute anything!
Betty Pancakes November 24, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Au contraire, mon frere! I think Chester is spot-on, and his comment is just as relevant in this thread as it would be in any other post. The point of Patch is to have dialogue, discussion, conversation. However, when one poster does nothing short of hijack the entire process, endlessly "talking over" anybody and everybody who thinks or speaks differently than she, Patch becomes pointless and totally unenjoyable. Read the article, make your point, and then allow others to engage. Don't lecture, suffocate or trample on fellow posters. And in this particular thread, it is shameful that a serious discussion about the health, safety and well-being of Novato's youth is again being dominated by one poster who seemingly has all the answers. I disagree wholeheartedly with her holistic "ongoing health class" approach to the problem of teen drinking and driving. But she wins because she has time to type, copy and paste, and spew her rhetoric more than the rest of us.
Roger November 24, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Betty, I find Tina's postings more helpful and of value than your personal attacks of her. Your one idea ...having parents take their kids to the scene of the accident ... is in the helpful vein, although there is not much to see at the end of Sutro. I would like to hear more solution ideas from you and less whining and envy over the extra time Tina has to post. You start to sound like Mr. Grimes. I did like Brent's idea of a busted student telling his story to the student body.


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