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Guest Op-Ed: Talk to Your Teenagers About Driving While Drinking, Impaired or Distracted

Guest Op-Ed: Talk to Your Teenagers About Driving While Drinking, Impaired or Distracted

Winthrop Transcript
By Jeanne Holgerson, MSN, APNP-BC
by Transcript Staff
May 12, 2022

The prom is one of the most memorable events in the life of a high school student. For many it’s a once-in-a-lifetime night, planned for months and talked about for years afterward. The prom is followed by graduation and many celebrations in the months to follow.

But it’s important to remember that, as fun as the prom, graduation, and parties can be, they can also be very dangerous. Too often, all over the country, communities are grief-stricken because of a drunken driving crash involving teenagers. Those accidents are entirely avoidable. Teens simply must know the consequences of drinking and driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it’s one of the most dangerous times for teens on the road. Texting, underage drinking, and other distractions lead to tragedies that can be avoided through education and communication.

Drinking and Driving

Alcohol is a substance that reduces the function of the brain, impairing thinking, reasoning, and muscle coordination. All these abilities are essential to operating a vehicle safely. As alcohol levels rise in a person’s system, the negative effects on the central nervous system increase. Even a small amount of alcohol can affect driving ability.

Driving after drinking is deadly. Yet, it continues to happen across the United States. If you drive while impaired, you could get arrested, or worse — be involved in a traffic crash that causes serious injury or death.

Approximately one-third of all traffic crash fatalities in the United States involve drunk drivers. In 2019, there were 10,142 people killed in these preventable crashes. In fact, on average over the 10-year period from 2010-2019, more than 10,000 people died every year in drunk-driving crashes. In every state, it’s illegal to drive drunk, yet one person was killed in a drunk driving crash every 52 minutes in the United States in 2019.

According to the NHTSA, 28% of teen drivers killed in car accidents were drunk driving. Parents need to talk about the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol with their teenagers. Especially as we enter the season for the prom and graduation parties, it is vital to communicate the risks to your children of drinking and drunk driving. Research proves that parents are a teenager’s number one influence about alcohol. They may not be talking, but teens are always listening. So as parents you still have a major influence on your teenagers. For more information on talking to your teen, preventing underage drinking, and facts about the problem, visit www.familytalkingaboutdrinking.com.

Texting and Driving

We all know the dangers of drinking and driving. However, using a cell phone while driving delays a driver’s reactions as much as having four 12-ounce beers. According to distraction.gov, sending or receiving text messages takes the driver’s eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds and makes the driver 23 times more likely to get into a crash. Teens should download apps such as AT&T’s DriveMode or DriveSmart. When these apps are enabled, the phone will automatically respond to incoming texts with a message letting others know you’re on the road, and that you’ll respond when it’s safe.

Marijuana and Driving

Driving under the influence of marijuana is dangerous and illegal. If you get behind the wheel while you’re impaired by any substance, you put yourself, your passengers, and others on the road at risk. Impaired driving is a criminal behavior regardless of whether a drug is prescribed, obtained over-the counter, bought in a retail setting, or considered an illicit substance.

There is no level of marijuana safe for driving. Research shows that marijuana can impair drivers in a variety of ways. It can affect psychomotor functions such as attention, reaction time and coordination. Laboratory-based studies have demonstrated that marijuana use impairs many aspects of cognitive and physical function that are necessary for safe driving. Marijuana can decrease car handling, can impair performance and attention while increasing reaction times, following distance and lane deviation.

Mixing alcohol and marijuana may produce effects greater than either drug on its own.

Getting Home Safely

Honest communication with your child, explaining the deadly risks of impaired driving, and discussing underage drinking prevention can prevent a deadly end to the night. AAA has offered some guidance on key points to discuss with your teenager, and more information can be found on their website www.teendriving.aaa.com.

AAA Offers the Following Tips:

Remind teens that if a friend gets behind the wheel of a car drunk and won’t listen to reason, they should not take that ride. Assure them that you would much rather get a call from them, asking for a ride, than a call from the police.

Develop a safe driving plan. AAA encourages parents to make a safe driving plan with their teen, set a reasonable time to return home and talk with them about potential risks such as driving with a passenger, and while impaired or distracted.

Discuss prom plans with other parents. Don’t assume all parents share your values and will monitor your teen’s actions as you would expect. Exchange phone numbers and talk with other parents and your teen’s friends to ensure ample communication.

Limit the number of passengers in a vehicle. Parents should limit the number of teens in the vehicle to the driver and one passenger. The teens may have plans to go “as a group” but they should drive in separate vehicles and enjoy the “group” when they reach their destinations (pictures, dinner, prom and after prom).

Say No to Alcohol. Remind your teen that it is against the law for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol. Encourage teens to be prepared to appropriately handle peer pressure to drink alcohol by saying no. Do not serve alcohol to your teen or any other teen in your home.

  • Don’t drive while impaired, distracted, or drowsy:
  • Remind teen passengers not to create distractions for the driver. No cell phone use while driving. Keep your eyes on the road and limit passenger interaction.
  • Remind your teen that safe, responsible drivers do not combine drinking and driving.
  • Remind your teen to not drive if they are drowsy after a long night of dancing. Sleepiness can slow reaction time, decrease awareness, and impair judgement.
  • Remember defensive driving skills. Teens will be on the road on a weekend night with adult drivers who may be driving impaired (from alcohol or drugs). They need to be attentive and watch for other drivers who may not be driving safely.
  • Additional safe driving tips for teens and parents can be found at www.teendriving.aaa.com.