An especially busy time of the year for high school students is fast approaching. As the prom and graduation season draws near, law enforcement officials across the country and here in Minnesota are bracing for an increase in accidents and arrests related to young drivers who have consumed alcohol before getting behind the wheel.
The good news for worried parents is that incidents of teen drinking and driving are on a decidedly downward trend. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen drunk driving has decreased by 54% since the peak seen in the early 1990s. The CDC says there are many reasons for the drop, including a decrease in underage alcohol consumption and a more general decline in the number of teenage drivers on the road thanks to the passage of graduated licensing regulations in many states.
Despite the decline in teen drunk driving, car cashes remain the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. Data from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) indicate that each year one third of those deaths are related to alcohol and one out of every five teen drivers involved in fatal car accidents are found to have alcohol in their system.
Though everyone understands the danger of drunk driving, the risks are actually heightened in teenage motorists. Compared with a similarly aged sober driver, those between 16 and 20 who operate a vehicle with a BAC greater than 0.08 are 32 times more likely to die in a single car accident. Such drivers are also 13 times as likely to be involved in an accident where they live but another person loses their life.
According to data gathered by the CDC, teens in the upper Midwest are more likely to admit to drinking and driving than their peers in other regions. Students across the country between 16 and 19 were surveyed and the results showed that North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin all had high levels of teens drinkers, with each state reporting between 11 and 15 percent of teen drivers admitting to drinking and driving. This compares with a national rate of just under 10 percent.
Experts say that the best advice for parents is to start educating your children early and often about the dangers of mixing alcohol and motor vehicles. Experts say that parents should explain to their children that drinking and driving is not merely a bad idea, but it’s illegal and subject to criminal penalties. It’s also important to discuss the potential consequences, in terms of lives lost, financial penalties and the potential harm caused by a stained criminal record.
In Minnesota, the law is especially tough on teens that drink and drive. Though the state’s legal alcohol limit for adult drivers is 0.08 percent, there is no such threshold to charge someone underage – see Minnesota Statutes 169A.33
That means that if a driver is younger than 21, it is a crime in Minnesota to consume any alcohol whatsoever before driving, known as the “Not a Drop” law. Drivers found guilty of this offense face misdemeanor penalties and driver’s license suspension as well as possible adult punishment if the circumstances of the offense are severe enough.
Source: “Temptation high for drunk driving in prom, grad season,” by Jessica Bliss, published at USAToday.com.