Young Drivers & Alcohol

Young drivers are over-represented in alcohol related driving accidents. Although drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol related crashes are dropping among young people, specific actions are recommended to further reduce traffic accidents involving alcohol.

THE PROBLEM

Young people are over-represented in driving accidents involving alcohol. In a recent year, people aged 16 to 24 were involved in 28 percent of all alcohol-related driving accidents, although they make up only 14% of the U.S. population. 1 Young people are also over-represented in drinking driver injuries and deaths. 2 Even when their blood alcohol contents (BACs) are not high, young drinkers are involved in driving accidents at higher rates than older drivers with similar BACs. 3

Teens and other young people may be over-represented in drunk driving accidents because, in part, they tend to

THE GOOD NEWS

Fortunately, driving accidents have been declining among young people, just as they have among the general population. And deaths associated with young drinking drivers (those 16 to 24 years of age) are down dramatically, having dropped 47% in a recent 15-year period. 4

In contrast to popular belief, drinking among young people is dropping and has been doing so for many years. For example, statistics demonstrate that within a period of about 20 years, the proportion of American high school seniors who

Drinking among young people in general continues to drop

The proportion of youths aged 12 through 17 who consumed any alcohol within the previous month has plummeted from 50% in 1979 to 19% in 1998, according to the federal government's National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Thus, the proportion of young drinkers has dropped in 1998, the most recent year for which statistics are available, from one in two to under one in five in 1979. 6

Honestly!

Unfortunately, exaggerating the extent of drinking problems on campus creates a self-fulfilling prophesy. When young people go off to college falsely believe that "everybody is drinking heavily," then they tend to conform in order to fit in as a college student. Thus, those who exaggerate the problem of alcohol abuse actually contribute to the problem and make it worse.

When students find out that most others don't drink as much as they incorrectly believed, they feel empowered to drink less. So, honest accuracy rather than dishonest exaggeration is the most effective way to reduce alcohol abuse and the problems often associated with it. 14

The proportion of both junior and senior high school students who have consumed any alcohol during the year has dropped again for the third year in a row, according to the PRIDE Survey, a nation-wide study of 138,079 students. The Survey is designated by federal law as an official measure of substance use by teen-agers in the United States. 7

Drinking among college students continues to drop

The proportion of American college students who abstain from alcohol has increased 16% between 1989-1991 and 1995-1997, according to the federally-funded CORE Institute at Southern Illinois University. 8

The proportion of first year college students who drink beer has fallen dramatically and recently reached the lowest point in over 30 years. Similar drops have been documented in collegiate wine and spirits consumption over the past decade by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. 9

So-called bingeing is not only down among high school seniors but is also down among college students, and has been declining for a number of years. (Most so-called bingeing is not bingeing at all... See "Binge Drinking")

"Binge" drinking dropped significantly among college students in the United States in the four-year period between a recent study by Dr. Henry Wechsler of Harvard and his earlier study. He also found that the proportion of college students who abstain from alcohol jumped nearly 22% that short period of time. 10

University of Michigan

College student "binge" drinking recently reached the lowest level in the nearly twenty years that that the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research (ISR)has conducted its surveys for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The proportion of college students who drink has also reached a record all-time low according to ISR research. 11

College students drink less than people think

UNC Chapel Hill

College students simply don't drink as much as everyone seems to think they do, according to researchers using Breathalyzers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Even on the traditional party nights of Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 66% of the students returned home with absolutely no blood alcohol content; two of every three had not a trace of alcohol in their systems even on party nights.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

"I'm not surprised by these results," said Rob Foss, manager of Alcohol Studies for the UNC Highway Safety Research Center, which conducted the study with funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the North Carolina Governor's Highway Safety Program. "Other Breathalyzer studies we have done with drivers and recreational boaters show similar results - less drinking than is generally believed. We have substantial misperceptions about alcohol use in this country."12

THE TASK

While drinking abuse, including drunk driving, is down dramatically among young people, much remains to be done. Too many young people are still needlessly killed or injured as a result of drinking and driving.

We need to reduce Drinking and Driving

We need to reduce Drugging and Driving

For safe driving, never use illegal drugs. Illicit drugs are involved in a large proportion of driving accidents, injuries and deaths. Marijuana and other drugs reduce coordination, reaction time, and other abilities required to drive safely.17 In the case of marijuana, this impairment lasts as long as 24 hours after smoking just one joint. 18

As many as nearly 40% of injured drivers have tested positive for marijuana and the proportion is probably much higher for young drivers. 19 Police almost never test for illegal drug use and many accidents blamed on alcohol are actually caused by illicit drugs. 20

We need to improve Driver Education

Prospective drivers should be taught adequate information on alcohol and driving and they should be tested on this material on their driver's exams. In too many states, the subject is given only brief mention and seven states do not include any information or testing on it in the process of obtaining a driver's license. 21

In driving, beginner's luck isn't good enough. For much helpful information, see Phil Berardelli's practical book, Safe Young Drivers: A Guide for Parents and Teens, (McLean, VA: EPM Publications, 1996), which is available at your public library or through your library's Inter-Library Loan office.

We need to increase Safe Driving

Don't drive when fatigued. The dangers posed when fatigued are similar to those when intoxicated. Drunk or fatigued drivers both have slowed reactions and impaired judgment. Drivers who drift off cause about 72,500 injuries and deaths every year according to federal estimates. Drowsy driving is a major problem for young people, especially males 18 to 25, because they tend not to get enough sleep. 22

Don't use a car phone, apply make-up, comb your hair, or eat while driving. Drivers using car phones have about the same chance of having an accident as driving drunk! And hands-free cell phones are just as dangerous to use while driving. 23

Avoid driving late on weekends. Alcohol-related driving accidents are much more likely to occur at night and on weekends. 24

References

  • 1. Campbell, K. E., et al. Trends in Alcohol-Related Fatal Traffic Accidents: NIAAA Surveillance Report #38. Bethesda, Maryland: USPHS, 1996.
  • 2.U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ninth Special Report to The U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health. (June, 1997) Available at http://odphp.osophs.dhhs.gov/pubs/HP2000/hppub97.htm.
  • 3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Alcohol Alert: Drinking and Driving. No. 31 PH. (January 1996) Available at www://silk.nih.gov/silk/niaaa1/aa31.htm.
  • 4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and Health. Ninth Special Report to the U.S. Congress. Washington, D.C.: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1997.
  • 5. Johnson, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., and Bachman, J. G. National Survey Results on Drug Use from The Monitoring The Future Study, 1975-1997. Washington, D. C.: National Institute on Drug Abuse, Vol. I: Secondary School Students, 1998; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.dot.gov).
  • 6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Washington, D.C.: SAMHSA, 1999, Table 14. Available at www.samhsa.gov.
  • 7. PRIDE Survey. News from PRIDE Surveys, Sept. 8, 1999 (press release).
  • 8. Presley, C. A., Meilman, P., and Lylerla, R. Alcohol and Drugs on American Campuses: Use, Consequences, and Perceptions of the College Environment. Volume I: 1989-1991. Carbondale, IL: The CORE Institute, 1993; Presley, C. A., Leichliter, J. S., and Meilman, P. W. Alcohol and Drugs on American Campuses: A Report to College Presidents. Third in a Series: 1995, 1996, and 1997. Carbondale, Illinois: The CORE Institute, 1998.
  • 9. Astin, A. W., Parrott, S. A., Korn, W. S., and Sax, L. J. The American Freshman: Thirty Year Trends, 1966-1996. Los Angeles, CA: University of California, Higher Education Research Institute, 1997, p. 21.
  • 10. Wechsler, H., Dowdall, G. W., Maenner, G., Gledhill-Hoyt, J., and Lee, H. Changes in binge drinking and related problems among American college students between 1993 and 1997: Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Survey. Journal of American College Health, 1998, 47, 57-68.
  • 11. Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 1999 (www.isr.umich/src/mtf).
  • 12. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill News Services. Nationally unique breathalyzer study shows most UNC-CH students don't drink alcohol, even on traditional "party" nights. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill News Service, press release, August 10, 1999.
  • 13. Reference not available at this time.
  • 14. Haines, M. P. A Social Norms Approach to Reducing Binge Drinking at Colleges and Universities. Newton, Massachusetts: Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1996.
  • 15. Moskowitz, H. Driving Under the Influence. In: Ammerman, R. T., Ott, P. J., and Tarter, R. E. (Eds.). Prevention and Societal Impact of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum, 1999. Pp. 109-123.
  • 16. Simpson, H. M., and Mayhew, D. R. The Hard Core Drinking Driver. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Traffic Injury Research Foundation, 1991, pp. 23-24.
  • 17. Smiley, A. Marijuana: onroad and driving simulator studies. Alcohol, Drugs, and Driving: Abstracts and Review, 1986, 2, 121-134. A survey of nearly of nearly six thousand teen-age drivers demonstrated that those who had driven six or more times a month after smoking marijuana were about two and a half times more likely to have an accident than those who did not. Among those teens who had driven fifteen or more dtimes a month after smoking marijuana, the chances of having an accident rose to three timjes as high (Hingson, R. et al. Journal of Safety Research, 1982, 13, 33-38).
  • 18. Meer, J. Marijuana in the air: delayed buzz bomb. Psychology Today, 1986 (February), 68-69.
  • 19. Crouch, D. Alternative Drugs, Specimens, and Approaches for Non-Regulated Drug Testing. In Karch, S. B. (Ed.) Drug Abuse Handbook. Boca Raton, Louisiana: CRC Press, 1998. Pp. 776-783.
  • 20. Addiction Research Foundation. Alcohol, other drugs and driving. The Journal, 1992. See also Brookhoff, D., et al. Testing reckless drivers for cocaine and marijuana. New England Journal of Medicine, 1994, 331, 518-522; Saylor, K. E., et al. The high way: driving under influences other than alcohol. Journal of the American Medical Medical Association, 1992, 267, 652; Kirby, J. M., et al. Comparability of alcohol and drug use in injured drivers. Southern Medical Journal, 1992, 85, 800-802; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Use of Controlled Substances and Highway Safety: A Report to Congress. Washington, DC: Department of Transportation; Skolnick, A. Illicit drugs take still another toll: death or injury from vehicle associated trauma. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1990, 263, 3122-3125.
    • Addiction Research Foundation research found that, of vehicle crash victime who tested positive for either legal substances or illegal drugs, only 15% had consumed only alcohol. (Hingson, R., Heeren, T., Mangione, T., Morelock, S., and Mucatel, M. Journal of Safety Research, 1982, 13, 33-38.)
    • Between 9 and 37% of injured drivers test positive for marijuana, and the proportion is probably much higher among young people. (Meer, J. Marijuana in the air: Delayed buzz bomb. Psychology Today, 1986 (February), pp. 68-69.)
    • A survey of nearly 6,000 teen-age drivers demonstrated that those who had driven six or more times a month after smoking marijuana were about two and a half times more likely to have an accident than those who did not. Among those teens who had driven 15 or more times a month after smoking marijuana, the chances of having an accident rose to three times as high. (Addiction Research Foundation. Alcohol, other drugs and driving. The Journal, 1992. See also Brookoff, D., et al. Testing reckless drivers for cocaine and marijuana. New England Journal of Medicine, 1994, 331, 518-522; Saylor, K. E., et al. The high way: Driving under influences other than alcohol. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1992, 267, 652; Kirby, J. M., et al. Comparability of alcohol and drug use in injured drivers. Southern Medical Journal, 1992, 85, 800-802; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Use of Controlled Substances and Highway Safety: A Report to Congress. Washington, D. C.: Department of Transportation; Skolnick, A. Illicit drugs take still another toll: Death or injury from vehicle-associated trauma. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1990, 263, 3122-3125.)
  • 21.Meister, F. A. A comprehensive approach to DWI. Healthy Drinking, 1995, 9, 20-21, p. 21.
  • 22. National Sleep Foundation data reported in "American Needs More Sleep, Study Says" (www.dui.com/whatsnew/sleep.html); Mann, D. Driving dangerously by driving drowsy: Experts say sleepy drivers may be as hangerous as drunken drivers. WebMD Health (http://my.webmd.com/content/article/1728.57152) 6-2-2000.
  • 23. Alm, H., and Nelsson, L. Changes in driver behaviour as a function of handsfree mobile telephones. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1994, 26, 441-451; Brookhuis, K. A., et al. The effects of mobile telephoning on driving performance. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1991, 23(4), 309-316; Redelmeier, D. A., and Tibshirani, R. J. Association between cellular telephone calls and motor vehicle collisions. New England Journal of Medicine, 1997, 336(7); Violanti, J. M., and McKnight, A. S. The effect of cellular phone use upon drivers inattention. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1993, 25(3), 259-265.
  • 24. If someone is killed in a struck vehicle during the daylight hours on Monday through Thursday, the chances are less than 1 in 10 that the victim was impaired by alcohol. The chances are more like 9 in 10 for a single-vehicle accident occurring in the early morning hours on a weekend to involve alcohol. Drunk drivers are more likely to kill themselves and those in their cars than to kill others.(New York State Governor's Traffic Safety Committee. Steer Clear of Aggressive Driving. 1998 [pamphlet].)

Readings (Listing does not imply endorsement)

  • Drinking and driving by teens, impaired driving, DWI, drink driving, traffic crash statistics, and related topics on the subject of drinking, driving, and young people are covered by these readings.
  • Astin, A., et al. The American Freshman: Thirty Year Trends, 1966-1996. Los Angeles, CA: University of California, Higher Education Research Institute, 1997.
  • Benjamin, T. (Ed.). Young Drivers Impaired by Alcohol and Other Drugs. London and New York: Royal Society of Medicine Services, 1987.
  • Berardelli, P. Safe Young Drivers: A Guide for Parents and Teens. Vienna, VA: Nautilus Communications, 2000.
  • Brookhuis, K. A., et al. The effects of mobile telephoning on driving performance. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1991, 23(4), 309-316.
  • Campbell, K. E., et al. Trends in Alcohol-Related Fatal Traffic Accidents. Bethesda, MD: United States Public Health Service, 1996.
  • Catchpole, J. Why are Young Drivers Over-Represented in Traffic Accidents? Vermont, South, Victoria, Australia: Australian Road Research Board, 1994.
  • Doherty, S. T. Young drivers and graduated licensing: the Ontario case. Transportation, 1997, 24(3), 227-251.
  • Donelson, , A. C., et al. The Role of Alcohol in Fatal Traffic Crashes: British Columbia. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Traffic Safety Research Foundation, 1989.
  • Duncan, D. F. Chronic drinking, binge drinking, and drunk driving. Psychological Reports, 1987, 80(2), 681.
  • Engs, R. C., and Hanson, D. J. Drinking games and problems related to drinking among moderate and heavy drinkers. Psychological Reports, 1993, 73, 175-181.
  • Frisbie, T. Talking mobile. Traffic Safety, 1991, 91(2), 26-28.
  • Haines, M. P. A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge Drinking at Colleges and Universities. Newton, MA: Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1996. (This very useful book is available free by calling 1-800-676-1730.)
  • Hans, M. Innovative programs target young drivers. Traffic Safety, 1996, 96(5), 6-9.
  • Hans, M. Graduated licensing: training wheels for young drivers. Traffic Safety, 1996, 96(2), 6-9.
  • Hansen, W. B., and Graham, J. W. Preventing alcohol, marijuana and cigarette use among adolescents. Preventive Medicine, 1991, 20.
  • Hanson, D. J. Alcohol Education: What We Must Do. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.
  • Hanson, D. J., and Engs, R. C. The alcohol knowledge and drinking myths of a national sample of university students. Journal of College Student Development, 1989.
  • McGwin, G. Characteristics of traffic crashes among young, middle-aged, and older drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1999, 31(3), 181-198.
  • McKnight, A. J., and McKnight, A. S. The effect of cullular phone use upon driver inattention. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1993, 25(3), 259-265.
  • Milgram, G. G. The Facts about Alcohol. Mount Vernon, NY: Consumers Union, 1990.
  • Moulden, J. V. Alcohol Education: A Long-Term Strategy for Preventing Transportation Accidents. In: Benjamin, T. (Ed.). London and New York: Royal Society of Medicine Services, 1987.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Youth Fatal Crash and Alcohol Facts. Washington, D.C.: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1998.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Incidence and Role of Drugs in Fatally Injured Drivers. Washington, D. C.: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1993.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic Safety Facts, 1997: Young Adults. Washington, D.C.: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1998.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and Health. Washington, D. C.: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1997.
  • O'Malley, P. M., et al. Alcohol use among adolescents. Alcohol Health & Research World, 1998, 22(2), 85-93.
  • Petica, S. Risks of cellular phone usage in the car and its impact on road safety. Recherche-Transports-Securite, 1993, 37, 45-56.
  • Presley, C. A., et al. Alcohol and Drugs on American Campuses: Use, Consequences, and Perceptions of the College Environment. Carbondale, IL: CORE Institute, 1993.
  • Presley, C. A., et al. Alcohol and Drugs on American Campuses: A Report to College Presidents. Carbondale, IL: CORE Institute, 1998.
  • Redelmeier, D. A., and Tibshirani, R. J. Association between cellular telephone calls and motor vehicle collisions. New England Journal of Medicine, 1997, 336(7).
  • Ross, H. L. Confronting Drunk Driving. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.
  • Schulenberg, J., et al. Adolescent risk factors for binge drinking during the transition to young adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 1996, 32(4), 654-674.
  • Simpson, H. M., and Mayhew, D. R. The Hard Core Drinking Driver. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Traffic Safety Research Foundation, 1991.
  • Spierer, E. Young Drivers and Alcohol: Educational Measures and Programmes. In: Benjamin, T. Ed.). Young Drivers Impaired by Alcohol and Other Drugs. London and New York: Royal Society of Medicine Services, 1987. Pp. 227-235.
  • Violanti, J. M., et al. Cellular phones and traffic safety. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1996, 28, 265-270.
  • Wechsler, H., et al. Changes in binge drinking and related problems among American college students between 1993-1997: Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Survey. Journal of American College Health, 1998, 47, 57-68.
  • Williams, A. F. Drugs in fatally injured young male drivers. Public Health Reports, 1985, 100(1), 19-25.
  • Williams, T. P. The Relative Role of Alcohol as a Contributing Factor in the Over-Representation of Young Drivers in Highway Crashes. Albany, NY: New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, Bureau of Alcohol and Highway Safety, 1981.

Audiovisual

  • Allstate Insurance Co. Young Drivers: The High-Risk Years. (Northbrook, IL: Allstate Insurance Co., 1998. (15 min., col., in.)

Filed Under: Drinking and Driving

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