Still too many teens drinking, driving

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The number of young people who reported drinking and driving has fallen to a new low. According to the report “Why People Drink and Drive” issued by Vital Signs, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of high-school teens who reported drinking and driving fell 54 percent between 1991 and 2011.That's the good news. The bad news is that about 1 million American teens accounted for 2.4 million episodes of drinking and driving per month in 2011.

CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said: “We are moving in the right direction. Rates of teen drinking and driving have been cut in half in 20 years but we must keep up the momentum, one in 10 high-school teens, aged 16 and older, drinks and drives each month, endangering themselves and others.”

Teenage boys, as a whole, are 18 percent more likely to drink and drive than girls at just 6 percent and 85 percent of teens who reported drinking and driving in the past month also reported binge drinking, drinking five or more alcoholic drinks in a short time.

The report credits the reduction on parents, educators and state laws but concludes that more needs to be done.

You might think that everyone knows drinking impairs driving but interviews of about 600 people, who admitted to driving while impaired, found that “among young people, about half of them do not believe that it is risky to drink and drive.”

The report's authors found that most people don't start out deciding to drink and drive. However, as they state in the report: “They do set out to drink when they know they are going to drive” and vice versa.

The study found seven possible points at which people make decisions on drinking and driving:

Planning for drinking events-whether to attend a drinking event.

Transportation decisions-whether to drive or ride, turn over keys, etc.

Planning for drinking-whether to bring alcohol, to drink before starting out, etc.

Decisions to drink-when to start, setting a limit, slowing down, stopping, switching drinks, etc.

Activities during the event-eating, dancing, drinking games, etc.

Decisions to leave-whether to leave, where to go, etc.

Decisions to drive-whether to drive or to ride.

Notice that many of these points involve planning. Unfortunately, the reports states that these “plans are often based not around avoiding drinking and driving but around not getting caught” and “most people did not seem to believe that anything bad was likely to happen” right up to the moment they had an accident or were arrested.

Some of the ideas suggested to change this thinking included showing people the legal, physical and economic consequences of drinking and driving, demonstrating how alcohol impairs, making happy hour or ladies' night at bars illegal, targeted messages and pay the designated driver as an incentive for sobriety. If we want to keep our kids and other loved ones safe, there is more we can do to help them make good decisions. For a copy of the 122-page report visit http://ntl.bts.gov/lib/32000/32600/32666/808251.pdf.

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