As a percentage of the U.S. population, the number of teens who drive has been declining. However, there are still 13,000,000 licensed drivers under the age of 20 -- and according to a recent study, over one in ten of them will drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol tonight.
The study was conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions). Earlier this year, the two organizations led focus groups with teen drivers in Boston and Atlanta, then surveyed roughly 1,700 high schoolers in the 11th and 12th grades. The focus groups and surveys explored questions about drug and alcohol usage and driving -- specifically, driving on New Year's Eve.
The findings were mixed, to say the least. On the upside, teens are aware of the dangers of being on the road tonight. In fact, 49% agreed that merely driving on New Year's Eve is very dangerous or extremely dangerous. Of those surveyed, 87% said that they would ask an intoxicated driver to hand over the keys, and 92% said that if they were drunk, they would stop driving when asked. (Of course, these questions were posed while the kids were sober: the answers might be different after a couple of beers of bong hits.)
On the downside, 12% of teens say that they drove drunk or under the influence of drugs last New Year's Eve. And parents aren't helping improve matters:
- 47% -- nearly half of all teens surveyed -- said that their parents allow them to attend parties where alcohol is served. That's up considerably from 36% in 2010.
- 37% say that they're allowed to drink so long as their parents are around (up from 30% in 2010).
- 29% say that they're allowed to drink without parental supervision (up from 21% in 2010).
- 15% say that they're allowed to host parties where alcohol is served (up slightly from 14% in 2010).
So, while teens certainly aren't innocent when it comes to drinking, the survey clearly fingers parents as part of the problem. According to SADD's Stephen Wallace, "Many adults have a 'been there, done that' mentality when it comes to the issue of impaired driving among teens. Yet, research points out that a majority of their children know that this is a timely and important issue."
Roughly 10% of highway fatalities in the U.S. involve teen drivers, and a significant percentage of those accidents involve alcohol. If you have a teen driver in your house, the best time to have a conversation with him or her about the dangers of driving while intoxicated is long before they get on the road. Liberty Mutual has put together a Parent-Teen Driving Contract that can help start the conversation. You can learn more about it and download a copy here.
We hope you have a very safe and happy New Year's Eve. We'll see you all here tomorrow.