Teenage drinking and driving declines 54 percent in the past two decades

By Amy Chapman on October 16, 2012

The number of teens who drink and drive dropped by over half in the last 20 years according to a report released earlier this month by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From 1991 to 2011, self-reported drinking and driving among high school students over 16 years of age declined by 54%, from 22.3% to 10.3%. Although this decline is positive news, teens are still drinking and driving in shocking numbers. "Almost a million high school teens aged 16 and over drove after drinking alcohol in 2011 and we calculate that high school teens were responsible for about 2.4 million episodes of drinking and driving a month," said CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading killer of teens in America. In one in five fatal crashes involving teens, the drivers had a measurable amount of alcohol in their system.

Changes in laws in California and nationally contributed to the decline
The CDC credits policy developments since the 1980s for reducing alcohol-involved fatal crashes among teens. Those policies include raising the minimum drinking age to 21 in all 50 states, zero tolerance laws for drinking and driving while under 21, and graduated driver licensing. While graduated driver licensing does not specifically target drinking and driving, it curbs risky behavior by banning the transportation of other teens and driving late at night. The CDC reports that a decline in driving by teens may have contributed to the overall drop in instances of drinking and driving. From 2000 to 2010, the number of high school seniors who did not drive during an average week increased from 15% to 22%. The CDC opines that two factors may have impacted this drop: graduated driver licensing systems and increased gasoline prices.

California rules for teen driving
In California, teens must be at least 15½ to obtain a provisional driving permit that allows them to drive with a responsible adult over 25. Teens must hold that permit for at least six months, complete a driver education class, complete six hours of professional driver training, and practice at least 50 hours before they can take the driving test to obtain a license. For the first year a teenager has a license, he or she is prohibited from driving any passengers under 20 and from driving after 11:00 at night. California has a "zero tolerance" law for underage drinking and driving. It is illegal for anyone under 21 to drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system, even .01.

Teens who drink and drive face increased risks
Teens who drive with any alcohol in their system are a great danger to not only themselves and their passengers, but also other drivers. The CDC reports that:

For each 0.02% increase in BAC, the relative risk of a driver aged 16-20 years dying in a crash is estimated to more than double. Compared with a sober driver of the same age, a driver aged 16-20 years with a BAC of 0.08%-0.099% is estimated to be 32 times as likely to die in a single-vehicle crash and 13 times as likely to be in a crash in which the young driver lives but someone else dies.

These numbers are so high because when teens drink alcohol, they tend to do so to the point of intoxication, unlike many moderate adult drinkers.

If you have any questions about juvenile or adult DUI laws, contact a local DUI attorney for help.