Underage teenagers and young adults are still consuming alcohol and driving. According to a recent publication from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 5,000 people who are under the age of 21 die each year due to drinking and driving. This is a startling statistic because those 5,000 underage teens shouldn’t be consuming alcohol in the first place!

As a parent of a teenager, I know I’m very concerned about the repercussions of teens choosing to drink and then drive. Teenagers are new drivers and many of them are not yet completely comfortable with handling a 2,000 pound vehicle. Unfortunately, the traffic accident rates for 16-19 year old drivers are higher than for any other age group. Many teenagers have a low risk perception, meaning they underestimate the degree of threat posed by a hazard and they overestimate their ability to deal with the issue. Many teens don’t wear a seat belt and they (wrongly) think they’re fantastic drivers. Teens may take unnecessary risks while driving, like peeling out of the school parking lot in an effort to show off to their friends. They may also pile other teenagers into their car, which can cause a potentially fatal distraction to the driver. The advent of cell phones has made things much worse. Cell phones can be a great way for a parent to stay in touch with their teen, but they’re also a deadly distraction to new drivers.

Parents need to set specific rules when it comes to driving. For example, you could institute a “no questions asked” policy, meaning that your kids know they can call you at any time to come pick them up, especially if they have been drinking. No questions will be asked (until the morning). This is a great rule because it keeps the lines of communication open and your children will know that you will be there for them should they make a bad choice or get into trouble.

The teen years are a time when children are no longer under the watchful eyes of parents and school leaders.  Teens are exposed to not only teen peer pressure but also the availability of alcohol in supermarkets, gas stations, and local convenience stores. Some teens have older brothers or sisters who are willing to supply them with alcohol. Other teenagers might use a fake I.D. or buy alcohol from a lenient store.

Parents and the community need to be aware of the dangers of teen drinking and driving. Parents must be willing to set clear, consistent boundaries and rules when it comes to their teen driving. If the teen breaks the rule, then there need to be consequences.

Contributed by Guest Blogger Jill Erickson

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