In the United States, car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers. If drunk driving statistics are to be believed, the rising trend of teenagers driving under the influence of alcohol is to be blamed for this.
Driving under the influence (DUI), a.k.a. drunken driving, is definitely one of the most serious issues plaguing American society today. In order to drive safely, the person has to be alert; he has to be capable of making decisions based on what is happening around him and execute them. That, however, is not possible when driving under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol leads to loss of coordination, poor judgment, slowing down of reflexes and distorting vision, all of which could increase the chances of a mishap.
Teen Drinking and Driving
If there’s anything that makes drunk driving worse, it’s the number of teenagers involved, and that too, in spite of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 putting alcoholic beverages out of reach for individuals below 21 years of age. Leave alone driving under the influence, it is illegal for anyone who is less than 21 to purchase or possess alcoholic beverages in the first place, and yet, DUI is far from rare. In a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey, 10.3 percent of teens reported drinking and driving in 2011.
What the Statistics Have to Say
In teenagers―those who resort to binge drinking in particular―alcohol is often the root cause of overconfidence of being able to handle anything. Then there is the case of peer pressure, wherein a teen will be forced to take the wheel when he is drunk, even if he doesn’t want to. This, for some people, is just a means for deriving ‘some fun’. In either case, driving safety takes the backseat, and what follows is a disaster. The statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and various insurance agencies, put forth some staggering facts about drunk driving.
Motor vehicle crashes, homicides, and suicides are the leading causes of teen deaths in the United States. Of these three, motor vehicle crashes form a major chunk with 20 percent of the casualties; alcohol-related accidents accounting for one-third of the same.
In 2008, 12 percent of the fatal crashes that were recorded in the United States involved drivers in the age group of 15 – 20. According to the NHTSA, 31 percent of teen drivers killed in car crashes in 2008 were drinking alcohol. The only other cause which accounted for more teen deaths that year was speeding (37 percent).
A boy in his teens is 18 times more likely to crash his vehicle when he has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 percent than a boy in the same age group who is sober. In girls, the likelihood of a crash is three times more than what it is in case of boys.
Teenagers in the age group of 16 – 20, with a BAC of 0.08 percent, are 17 times more likely to die in a crash. The incidents of teens driving with BAC levels of 0.08 percent are pretty common, which is surprising considering that the U.S. law disallows adults with these levels from taking the wheel.
According to the CDC, the relative risk of an individual in the age group of 16 – 20 dying in a car crash doubles with every 0.02 percent increase in BAC.
The age at which an individual starts drinking alcohol is also important. Research suggests that those who start drinking at a young age are 7 times more likely to be involved in an alcohol-related car crash.
Most of the drivers forget to use their seat belts after consuming alcohol. In 2010, 56 percent of drivers in the age group of 15 – 20 who were involved in fatal drunk driving crashes were reportedly not wearing their seat belts.
According to the drunk driving statistics compiled by the CDC more than half of the drunk driving accidents involving teenagers reported in 2010 occurred on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Furthermore, roughly about half of these accidents occurred between 03:00 PM and 12:00 AM.
Those in favor of legal drinking age laws argue that such laws have saved an estimated 24,560 lives since 1975. A study in the 12 states of the United States reported that the proportion of fatal accidents reduced by 20 percent after these states passed the zero tolerance law.
According to the studies undertaken by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), young people are less likely to drive after drinking, but when they do, they are more likely to end up crashing as they are drunk and relatively inexperienced in driving.
If the recommendations made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are approved, the BAC level for drunk driving will be brought down from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent. According to the board, the chances of a crash in case of 0.05 percent BAC are half as much as they are in case of 0.08 percent BAC.
On one hand, we have the administration doing its bit by implementing measures, like the zero tolerance law and sobriety checkpoints. On the other, we have organizations, like the Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) spreading awareness about the hazards of drinking and driving. While efforts like these have brought about a significant decline in the number of casualties, the numbers depicted in the latest statistics continue to be a matter of concern, and that’s something that we need to look into.
A ray of hope comes in form of the statistical data compiled by the CDC in 2012, which shows that the percentage of high school teenagers who drink and drive has come down by 54 percent since 1991. While that is definitely a reason to cheer, we still have a long way to go.