Riding with a Drinking Driver Drops among Students in U.S.

Riding with a drinking driver is unsafe. In a recent year, 378 young people age 15-20 were killed while riding with drinking drivers.(1)

In addition, being a passenger with a drinking driver has other impacts. Those who had ridden with a drinking driver in all three years of high school were 127 times more likely to drive after drinking themselves by 12th grade. That’s compared with students who had never ridden with a drinking driver.(2)

The more that youth think their friends will disapprove of their riding with a drinking driver, the less likely they are to do it. Therefore, efforts are being made to reinforce peer pressure against the practice.

Study of Riding with a Drinking Driver.

riding with a drinking driverA national survey of high school students in the US is done every two years. It’s the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey (YRBSS). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducts the poll. It has been collecting data since 1991. It always asks students if they have ever ridden with a driver who has been drinking.(3)

In 1991, the proportion who reported ever having done so was 39.9%. In 2015, the proportion had dropped to only 20.0%.(4)

This is great progress. In addition, the prospect of making further reductions is good. MADD did an unscientific internet poll. Most respondents (90%) said that they would be willing to talk with their friends about the risks of riding with a drinking.

The survey also found 70% believed that not riding with a drinking driver would not harm their friendships.(5)


These findings suggest that social norms clarification (social norms marketing) programs could greatly reduce this proportion even more. That would result in even fewer unnecessary deaths and injuries.

In addition, social norms programs can cost virtually nothing. Consequently, high schools throughout the country can easily implement them.



1. MADD website.
2. Li, K., et al. Association between riding with an impaired driver and driving while impaired. Pediatrics, 2014, 144(4), 620-626.
3. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.
4. Ibid.
5. MADD website


Note. MADD uses the term ‘drunk driver’ to refer to any driver who has had anything to drink in an unspecified time before driving. Other studies refer to impaired drivers. The YRBSS calls them drivers who had been drinking alcohol. The generic term used here is drinking driver.