– Steven, 17
Despite the billions of dollars spent over the last several years to warn young people about the dangers of drinking and driving, the news from the National Institutes of Health isn’t all that good.
“It just happened so often that people would do that — just get in a car and drink and drive; just start driving around because they were bored or whatever, and that would happen at almost every party. It was just one of those things,” says Wes, 17.
It is just one of those things that kills 17 thousand people each year and injures a quarter of a million others. The latest numbers from the National Institutes of Health show that, in a two-week period, a third of high school seniors say they’ve been drunk behind the wheel or have been riding with a drunk driver.
“You can get away with it a thousand times, but it only takes one time to be dead or to have killed one of your peers driving with you,” says Steven, 17.
That “one time” happened to Wes and his friends.
“Right before we wrecked I remember everybody laughing and having a good time. That’s the last thing I remember, everybody was laughing,” says Wes.
Then he discovered that two of his friends had died in the crash. Experts say most teens know the danger of drinking and driving but too often they ignore it, especially after they’ve been drinking.
“There is a tremendous body of research that shows people who are drunk tend to be more aggressive and more impulsive, less capable in making rational decisions,” says Robert Margolis, clinical psychologist.
His advice to parents: be tough; don’t just say no drinking and driving, but no to drinking at all.
“I know that if you fight this battle you’re going to be unpopular, but isn’t that part of being a parent? Aren’t there certain things worth fighting? Aren’t there certain lines worth drawing, where you say, ‘Okay, I’m not going to worry so much about how long his hair is. I may not worry about the CDs that he listens to. But when it comes to drinking, then I’m going to fight that battle,” says Margolis.
“I just felt so stupid forever. I should have just said something when we were getting in the car because they would have listened. If I would have said, ‘This is a bad idea’ I don’t think anybody would have gone,” says Wes.
Tips for Parents
- Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of youth ages 15 to 20. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations, SAMHSA)
- Tell your child or any young person you care about that you do not want him getting into a car with someone who has had even one drink or who has been using illegal drugs. (SAMHSA)
- Tell your child that you want her to call you if she can’t get a safe ride home from a party or other event. Emphasize that you want her to call even if she herself has been drinking or using drugs (reassure her that, while you do not support this behavior, her safety is your first concern). (SAMHSA)
- If you host parties for young people, do not allow them to drink alcohol or use drugs. Do not serve alcohol, even to college students. Check on your guests regularly to make sure that no one is sneaking alcohol or other illegal substances into your home. The legal consequences of allowing underage drinking and drug use n your home can be severe, especially if a minor is injured or killed during the party or after leaving your house. (SAMHSA)
- Begin a coalition to address underage drinking and impaired driving in your community. Write to your local paper and legislators to gain support. (SAMHSA)
- Be a good role model. If you have been drinking, don’t drive. We all know that young people learn by example — don’t send mixed messages. (SAMHSA)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations (SAMHSA)