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Is Your Teenager Drinking (and Driving)?

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare — a phone call or knock on the door informing them their teen died in a drunk driving accident. And far too often, these bad dreams are a reality. Alcohol use presents one of the greatest threats to teens’ health and safety today, especially when paired with driving.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teenagers are at the highest risk of dying in drunk driving accidents. Around 16 percent of drivers aged 15 to 18 killed in motor vehicle accidents in a recent year had been drinking before their crashes.

Here, we discuss the problem of underage drinking and the role it plays in teen driving crashes in New Jersey and throughout the United States.

Statistics Show a High Rate of Underage Drinking

Teens are more likely to use alcohol than cigarettes or marijuana.

Drinking alcohol is illegal for anyone under 21 in the United States. But despite the law, surveys show that underage drinking frequently happens among the nation’s youth.

Consider these statistics from the most recent CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Among U.S. high school students:

  • One in three students reported current alcohol use.
  • 13.7 percent admitted to binge drinking.
  • 16.7 percent of teens rode with a driver who had been drinking at least once within 30 days before the survey.
  • 5.4 percent admitted to drinking and driving in the 30 days preceding the survey.
  • 3.1 percent reported the largest number of drinks they had in a row was 10 or more.

In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found nearly a quarter of 14 to 15-year-olds reported having at least one drink in a recent year. Not only that, 7 million young people between 12 and 20 acknowledged drinking alcohol beyond more than “a few sips” in the past month.

Consequences of Teen Drinking and Driving

Underage Drinking and Drunk Driving Accidents

The teen years represent a tremendous time for growth and development. Teenagers seek independence, and there is no greater rite of passage than getting a driver’s license.

Unfortunately, the desire for freedom is sometimes accompanied by rebelliousness and poor judgment. That’s where alcohol comes in. Drinking is just one type of rule-breaking that seems like fun but can quickly turn deadly.

Because their bodies are still developing, alcohol has a much stronger effect on teenagers than adults. Studies show teens have a much higher risk of being involved in a crash after drinking than older drivers, even when their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is under the legal limit of 0.08. Combined with less experience behind the wheel and developmental immaturity, it’s easy to see how easily teen drunk driving accidents can happen.

What Can Parents Do About Underage Drinking?

If you are concerned your teen is drinking, you can address the problem in the following ways:

  • Talk to them. Your best results will come from fostering a safe, judgment-free relationship with your teen. If you can open the door for an honest conversation, your teen will be more likely to seek you out for guidance — or a safe ride home if they get into an unexpected situation with peers.
  • Explain the rules. As soon as your teen gets their license, sit down to discuss your expectations for driving and outline the consequences that will come if they violate the rules by drinking alcohol.

Get them help: Clearly, access to alcohol starts early. If you suspect your child has a drinking problem, get help from a doctor and counselor right away.

It’s Personal to Us

At Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C., we take drunk driving prevention seriously.

One of our attorneys, Steven Benvenisti, developed a powerful program about the dangers of underage drunk driving. He presents the program at schools throughout New Jersey and the country.

The program, “The Most Significant Case of My Entire Career,” is based on Benvenisti’s own experience. A drunk driver hit Benvenisti many years ago when he was a college student, causing him to suffer life-threatening injuries.

Benvenisti donates all honorariums and proceeds from the program and from a book he wrote about his experience to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey.

As part of his program, he gives the audience a “Contract for Life.” In the contract, students promise they will never drink and drive, get into a car with someone who has been drinking, or allow a friend to drink and drive. Parents agree to pick up their children if they call for a ride without any questions asked.

Get Help from an Experienced New Jersey Car Accident Lawyer

If you or someone you care about is injured due to a teen drunk driving accident, contact Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C. Our New Jersey car accident attorneys will help you throughout this troubling time. We will work aggressively to pursue just compensation for you and your family.

This post was originally published in April 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness in July 2021.