Teen DUI Statistics

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), driving while intoxicated is the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, and statistics show the problem is growing. With approximately 12 million people reporting that they have consumed alcohol at least once before their 21st birthday, underage drinking has garnered national attention as a primary health concern for today’s youth. Here we will outline some of the most up-to-date teen DUI statistics and examine some of the factors involved in producing this behavior.

Teen DUI Statistics

  • Approximately 4,300 deaths are attributed to underage drinking every year.
  • In 2015, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that within the previous 30 days:
    • 8% of high school students had driven after drinking.
    • 20% of high school students had ridden with an intoxicated driver.
  • Male drivers are reported to drive with a BAC above .08 (the legal limit in most states) nearly twice as often as female drivers.
  • 6 out of 10 drivers ages 16 to 20 who were killed in crashes were not wearing a seatbelt.

Teen Drunk Driving Facts in Perspective

Think about how many high school students you know and think back to when you were in high school. Now, consider the following facts.

  • As of 2015, the average number of students attending a given high school in the U.S. hovered around 800.
  • With nearly 1,600 annual deaths attributable to underage drunk driving, that works out to the loss of nearly 2 high school’s worth of students every year.
  • As of 2018, there were approximately million students enrolled in high schools in the U.S.
  • With 8% reporting drinking and driving, and 20% reported to have ridden with an intoxicated driver, it may be estimated that well over 4 million high school students engaged in drunk driving behavior, putting them at higher risk of injury or death.

What Causes Teens to Drink & Drive?

Young driver drinking and smoking while driving.

With all the information available on the dangers of drunk driving, it’s hard to imagine why anybody, specifically teens, would still drink and drive. In truth, there’s a host of factors that contribute to continued incidents of underage drunk driving. Some of the most influential are peer pressure, impaired decision making, family influence, personality, and an overall perception that drunk driving is normal and therefore less risky than it actually is.

Peer Pressure

Think back to when you were a teenager again, and see if you can remember how important it was to fit in. We tend to grow out of that urge eventually, but in those formative years, the need to be accepted as part of the larger group is a strong factor that could cloud anyone’s better judgment.

However, for some, fitting in may not be enough. Engaging in risky behavior is often considered to be cool amongst adolescents and in some cases, teens may choose to drink and drive out of a desire for attention or admiration. Other times, they simply don’t want to appear weak amongst their peers. Teen males are of particular concern since they are often driven to perform risky behaviors by a desire—or pressure—to show off. Some believe this may help explain why males drink and drive at double the rate of their female cohorts.

Impaired Decision Making

Impaired decision making is arguably the leading cause of drunk driving in general, and it is even more impactful amongst younger demographics. Alcohol inhibits the function of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is the primary area responsible for decision making. The effect of drinking on decision making is even more pronounced among youths since they often lack the alcohol tolerance of an adult.

Additionally, the prefrontal cortex of the brain typically reaches maturation in our early to mid-20s, meaning teens have yet to develop mature decision-making capabilities even before drinking. The current teenage distracted driving statistics prove that teens are already predisposed to engaging in dangerous habits via common driving distractions; mix this with alcohol consumption, and you have a cocktail for engaging in risky behaviors like drunk driving.

Familial Factors

It is true that the disapproval rating for drunk driving remains high amongst the younger populations. However, normalization of risky drinking behavior by family members appears to play a pivotal role in the development of said behavior in young members.

An American Medical Association nationwide survey reported that friends and family were their primary source for alcohol. Two in 3 teens reported that alcohol would be “very easy” or “fairly easy” to obtain from their parents home. Together, these statistics seem to indicate that teens know where to get alcohol and that it is readily accessible to them. In this light, it becomes clear that a lot of the impetus to engage in risky drinking behavior starts at home.

Personality Factors

Personality factors related to underage drunk driving take into account things like genetics, risk factors, and maturity level. Those who have a genetic predisposition for alcoholism are more likely to engage in risky alcohol-related behaviors than those who don’t. Those who have yet to mature mentally or emotionally may engage in drunk driving due to poor decision making, while those who have yet to mature physically may simply be more inhibited by the effects of alcohol because their bodies are smaller.

How to Prevent Underage Drinking and Driving?

Teenager getting car keys from his dad.

Research has shown that children of parents who are actively involved in their lives are less likely to drink alcohol, so it’s important to be present for your child as much as possible from infancy to adulthood. It has also been shown that children whose parents engage in risky drinking behavior are more likely to engage in risky drinking behavior themselves, so it’s important not only for parents to educate their children on the dangers of drinking and driving, but to lead by example.

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