Editorial: Some good news on teen drinking and driving
Federal health officials reported some encouraging news earlier this month regarding teen drivers. They are far less likely to drink and drive than in decades past.
Since 1991, the percentage of high school teens who report mixing alcohol and automobiles has dropped by 54 percent, according to a "Vital Signs" report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1 in 10 teens say they've driven while drinking, roughly half the percentage that admitted such behavior 20 years ago. The analysis is based on the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Beyond the obvious safety implications - fewer teen drivers who are drinking means fewer highway injuries and fatalities - experts say the steady decline shows that programs targeting teen drivers have had an impact and are worth the investment of money and effort. Specifically, the CDC report lists four areas of intervention that have made teens and our roads safer:
nEnforcement of minimum legal drinking-age laws. Compliance checks at alcohol retailers have helped reduce teen drinking and driving crashes. But Internet alcohol sales have opened up a troublesome new alcohol source where enforcemeent is more problematical.
nZero tolerance laws. Every state makes it illegal for underage drinkers to drive after drinking any amount of alcohol.
nGraduated licensing laws. Requiring young drivers to get more experience behind the wheel helped reduce teen crashes across the board.
nParental involvement. Don't doubt the impact that Mom and Dad can have on young drivers. Research suggests that parents who develop a clear "rules of the road" policy, preferably in writing, reduce the chances their young driver will engage in risky practices on the road.
But along with the positive trend, the report also emphasizes that teen drinking and driving remains a major problem. About a million high-school teens got behind the wheel after drinking in 2011, according to the CDC, and alcohol is a factor in about 20 percent of teen driver fatalities. There's also concern that after years of improvement in teen fatality rates, future gains may be more difficult because of the "leveling off" effect of graduated licensing programs that have now been in place for several years. Nonetheless, the documented decline in teen drinking and driving shows these programs are working. Education, enforcement and parental engagement are saving lives.
You can find the CDC Vital Signs report online at: http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/teendrinkinganddriving/index.html