Rate of teens drinking and driving halved in 20 years

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drinking and driving

Teen drinking and driving is way down, according to the CDC. Image: jenny downing/Flickr/CC BY

According to a new report from the Center for Disease Control, the numbers of teens drinking and driving has fallen by more than half in the last 20 years.

Fewer teens drinking and driving

The study was posted in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Oct. 3. It found that the number of teens, 16-year-old and older, who admitted to drinking and driving has fallen by 54 percent since 1991.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said:

“We are moving in the right direction, but we have to keep up the momentum.”

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Possible reasons for the decline

The CDC suggested many reasons that may have influenced the decline. The largest factor, according to the report, has been the effectiveness of preventative measures, such as stiffer laws and enhanced restrictions for younger drivers.

It is now illegal for people to drink under the age of 21 in all 50 states. There is also no minimum blood alcohol content level threshold for minors in any state. Any amount of alcohol in their blood will get them arrested, if caught behind the wheel.

The CDC report also speculated that some of the decline may be because teens drive less frequently than they once did. It reported that 22 percent of high school seniors did not drive at all in any given week this year. That rate was only 15 percent in 2000.

Teens are also driving to work less frequently since the Great Recession. The economic upheaval erased 2.7 million teen jobs, according to a report from the advocacy group Young Invincibles earlier this year. That also may have left teens with less pocket money so that they were unable to afford an auto loan payment or expensive gas.

Another reason for the decline, speculated the report, is that many states now implement Graduated Driving Laws. GDLs put restrictions on what hours teens can drive, and on how many non-adult passengers they are allowed to have as passengers.

Frieden said, in a teleconference:

“The spread and enforcement of GDLs is a real success story for the past decade. We’ve seen teen driving fatalities fall by nearly 40 percent in less than five years because of GDL laws as well as other interventions.”

Still a major problem

Despite decreased numbers, teen drinking and driving is still very much an issue of concern. Auto accidents are still the chief cause of death for 13 to 19 year-olds. In 2010, more than 2,200 American teens died in road accidents. Eight-hundred, or nearly a third, of those were alcohol related.

Self-reporting concerns

The CDC used data from national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys to compile its report. The fact that the numbers crunched were all self-reported does, at least for this writer, prompt some caution. Could not today’s reduced tolerance for drinking and  driving also motivate a teen to not admit the act as freely as he or she once might have? In my experience, shockingly, teens do not always tell the truth.


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