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.
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
- be relatively inexperienced drivers
- be relatively inexperienced consumers of alcohol
- be more likely to use illegal drugs
- have a false sense of invincibility and immortality
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
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
- have ever consumed alcohol is down 13%
- have consumed alcohol within the previous year is down
- have consumed alcohol within previous 30 days is down
- have recently consumed alcohol daily is down 67%
- have "binged" (consumed 5 or more drinks on an occasion within
previous two weeks) is down 24%5
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
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.
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
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
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.
"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
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
We need to reduce Drinking and Driving
- Social Pressure is very effective in reducing drunk driving
- Never condone or approve of intoxication. Intoxicated behavior
is dangerous and never amusing
- Don't ever let your friends drive after drinking. Take away
their keys, have them stay the night, have them ride home
with someone else, or do whatever else is necessary - but
don't let them drive!
- Designated Driver Programs save lives
- Volunteer to be a designated driver. It could save your
life and the lives of your friends
- It's important to realize that inexperienced drinkers become
intoxicated with much less alcohol than do experienced drinkers
and are much more likely to have traffic accidents after consuming
small amounts alcohol. Even a single drink dramatically increases
the chances that a teen-aged driver will have a driving accident.
- Graduated penalties for driving with higher BACs could saved
- Faster speeders get higher speeding fines and higher blood
alcohol contents (BACs) should get higher penalties. Drivers
with blood alcohol contents of .20 are hundreds of times more
dangerous than those with only .02 and should receive much
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.
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
- 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,
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),
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,
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)
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,
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,
Campbell, K. E., et al. Trends in Alcohol-Related Fatal
Traffic Accidents. Bethesda, MD: United States Public Health Service,
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),
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,
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,
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
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,
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,
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.
Allstate Insurance Co. Young Drivers: The High-Risk Years.
(Northbrook, IL: Allstate Insurance Co., 1998. (15 min., col., in.)