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Teen Drinking and Driving: A Dangerous Mix

The mission of the Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition is to positively impact the well-being of Novato youth through community action, policy advocacy and education.

The percentage of teens who drink and drive has decreased by more than half since 1991, but more can be done. Nearly 1 million teens drank alcohol and got behind the wheel in 2011. Teen drivers are three times more likely than experienced drivers to be in a fatal crash. Add alcohol to that — and the numbers rise even higher.

The California Healthy Kids Survey reports that 42 percent of Novato 11th graders report binge drinking* in the last 30 days**. That is almost TWICE the California state average of 24 percent. The same survey reported that 30 percent of Novato fifth-graders have tried alcohol**.

Research shows factors which help to keep teens safe include parental involvement, minimum legal drinking age and zero tolerance laws as well as graduated licensing systems.  These proven steps can protect the lives of more young drivers and everyone who shares the road with them.

Drinking and driving is deadly, especially for teens.

High school teens drink and drive about 2.4 million times per month.

No less than 85 percent of teens in high school who report drinking and driving in the last month also say the binge drank.

One in five teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had some alcohol in their system in 2010. Most of these drivers (81 percent of them) had blood-alcohol concentration*** higher than the legal limit for adults.

Research shows what has worked: Preventing Teen Drinking and Driving

Minimum Legal Drinking Age: Laws in every state make it illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under age 21. Research has shown that enforcement of MLDA laws using alcohol retailer compliance checks has reduced alcohol sales to those under the legal drinking age.

Zero Tolerance: Laws in every state make it illegal for those under the age of 21 to drive after drinking ANY alcohol. Research has demonstrated that these laws have reduced underage drinking and driving crashes involving teens. Research has also shown that parents who have a zero alcohol use policy with their teens are less likely to drink during their teen years as well.

Graduated Driver Licensing: systems help new drivers get more experience under less risky conditions. As teens move through stages, they gain privileges, such as driving at night or driving with passengers. Each state has GDL, but specific rules vary. Research shows that GDL systems prevent crashes and save lives.

Parental Involvement: With a focus on monitoring and restricting what new drivers are allowed to do, helps keep new drivers safe as they learn to drive. Parents can consider creating and signing a parent-teen driving agreement with their teens. Research has shown when parents establish and enforce “rules of the road,” new drivers report lower rates of risky driving, traffic violations and crashes.


Communities can:

  • Increase awareness among teens and parents. Attend community coalition meetings and join groups working to address underage drinking issues in Novato.
  • Strengthen enforcement of existing policies, such as minimum legal drinking age and zero tolerance laws, and graduated driver licensing systems.
  • Change the norms around acceptance of alcohol consumption. 39 percent of Novato adults report binge drinking in the last 30 days.

Pediatricians and Healthcare Professionals can:

Screen teens for risky behaviors including the following:

  • Using alcohol, drugs or other substances
  • Driving after alcohol or other drug use
  • Riding with a driver who has been using alcohol or other drugs

Educate teens and parents about the risks of drinking and driving.

Encourage parents of new teen drivers to set and enforce “rules of the road” and consider creating a parent-teen driving agreement.

Remind parents to lead by example as safe drivers, starting even before their child is old enough to drive.

Teens Can:

  • Choose to never drink and drive
  • Refuse to ride in a car with a teen driver who has been drinking
  • Know and follow the state’s GDL laws
  • Follow their “rules of the road” in their parent-teen driving agreement
  • Always wear a seatbelt, even if it’s only a short distance
  • Obey speed limits
  • Never use a cell phone or text while driving

Parents can:

  • Understand that drinking alcohol is as a teen is not a rite of passage
  • Recognize the dangers of teen drinking and driving and that teen drivers are at a much greater risk of an accident after drinking than adults
  • Model safe driving behavior
  • Consider creating a parent-teen driving agreement to set and enforce “rules of the road” for new drivers. Safe driving habits for teens include the following:
  • Never drink and drive
  • Follow GDL laws
  • Wear a seatbelt on every trip
  • Limit nighttime driving
  • Set a limit on the number of teen passengers
  • Never use a cell phone or text while driving
  • Obey speed limits

Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

 Note: Binge drinking is considered 4+ drinks in a 2 hour period for women, or 5+ drinks in a 2 hour period for men.

** Sources:  California Healthy Kids Survey, 2007 and 2009.

*** Blood alcohol concentration. It is illegal for adults to drive with a BAC of .08% or higher. It is illegal for anyone under age 21 to drive after drinking any alcohol in all US states.

The mission of the Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition is to positively impact the well-being of Novato youth through community action, policy advocacy and education. This shall be accomplished by: 1) reducing alcohol and marijuana use, and 2) reduce incidences of bullying.

For more information regarding the Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition for Youth, contact Nikki Buckstead at 415-798-5329 or nikki@NovatoBlueRibbon.org.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Tina McMillan November 23, 2012 at 08:24 AM
Perhaps this article can become a homework assignment at San Marin, MSA and Novato High. It would be a great way to start a dialogue. Read the article, write your own responses and then talk about it in class. There used to be a Health Class Freshman year of High School. Perhaps we need one every year to keep teens talking about the reality of the many accidents and deaths that happen as a result of either driving recklessly or driving under the influence. We can make a difference but first we need to start the conversation.
Brent Ainsworth (Editor) November 23, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Wouldn't it be great if teens who get DUIs were required to speak in those health classes or even at a school assembly? Maybe that's going to far into public shaming.
Craig Belfor November 23, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Car crashes are the #1 cause of death for white teens, and although alcohol is present in only one out of five drivers in these fatal accidents, the number of alcohol related deaths increases when the passenger deaths are included. I'll venture to guesses that the majority of teen auto fatalities involve alcohol, the rest being testosterone. What to do? Parents need to step up and be parents. Don't buy your kids a hot car when they're teens. Let them value themselves on something else. Set a curfew. Don't lay the problems and resposibilities of parenthood on the schools, the cops, the hospitals, and the government. Stop spending their college money on toys to impress your neighbors.
Betty Pancakes November 23, 2012 at 04:51 PM
OMG, the kids at San Marin, MSA and Novato High have been ATTENDING FUNERALS and BURYING THEIR CLASSMATES, consoling injured friends and watching their peers arrested and charged for alcohol-related driving accidents. THAT doesn't seem to convince these kids to stop drinking and driving ... but an annual homework assignment will?!? If there was EVER any doubt that some Novato patch posters/habitual commenters live in this annoying fantasyland where spewing holier than thou-ness was a recreational sport or hobby, this is it. Time for the parents to start hauling their kids out to the accident sites ... while it's still uncomfortably fresh. Even "Every 15 Minutes" has become a joke ... something the kids enjoy because it gets them out of class. Seriously. Enough with the touchy feely homework assignments and assemblies ...
Tina McMillan November 23, 2012 at 06:43 PM
A Health Class implies ongoing discussion of issues that directly affect teen health. This needs to be a required class that meets every year and that covers a wide range of subjects that are discussed rather than regurgitated. Teenagers are capable learners. It isn't about one homework assignment but about an ongoing dialogue. In some cases that dialogue happens at home but that doesn't replace talking with peers. I can't imagine a more important issue than the risks associated with being in a car where the driver is under the influence. This includes adult drivers as well as teens. The program "Every 15 minutes" would be far more effective if parents were asked to attend. Development of the teenage brain is an on the job process. A driver's license doesn't tell you anything about that person's assessment of risk whether they are 17 or 57. The most powerful effect adults can have on teenagers is to model responsible behavior. The second most powerful effect is to make earning a car a prerequisite to driving one. That means having a job as well as going to school. Using your own money to help pay for a car and its ongoing expense and parents being prepared to take a car away if it is clear that a teen is not ready for the responsibility of driving.
Tina McMillan November 23, 2012 at 07:08 PM
It wouldn't be shaming if it was an opportunity to make amends by helping other kids understand what makes you do something so foolish and reckless that it can lead to death. Can you imagine what it would be like to listen to the teen responsible for Isaac Brott's death talk about living with that fatal day? What about the other kids in the car in this recent accident; they also have a story to tell. Listening is the first step, reading, writing and talking about it make it even more real. It isn't enough to go to a funeral. The developing brain just says it will never happen to me. To really learn about something this serious takes repeated conversations and experiences. Many teens do have designated drivers. We don't hear about these kids but they exist all over Marin. They may not have stopped drinking or smoking but they have learned from the deaths they have seen. It is a first step. Wouldn't it be interesting if all cars had sobriety devices? Maybe its time... http://novato.patch.com/articles/a-year-has-passed-did-novato-learn-from-isaac-brotts-death
Betty Pancakes November 23, 2012 at 08:53 PM
EARTH TO TINA .... how, when and where is there room in the educational budget, within the confines of an already packed school day, and with so many working parents ... well, working ... would you fit in an Every 15 Minutes that parents attend ... plus an "ongoing" health class? Drinking before the age of 21 is illegal. Driving drunk, at any age, is illegal. You want the schools to teach children that they shouldn't do illegal things? And you want the parents to show up at school to hear the school tell their children not to do illegal things? GAH.
Tina McMillan November 23, 2012 at 09:36 PM
The point of the article and of the Blue Ribbon Coalition is to come up with ways to address the problems that we have with binge drinking, substance abuse and alcohol and substance related deaths. Thanks to Blue Ribbon and Novato Community Alliance we don't have a 24 hour convenience store at the Square selling alcohol. Sometimes speaking up does help. Sometimes ideas can take shape. Sometimes it does take a village to make a difference. If it was that easy to teach people to stop breaking laws we wouldn't have jails and prisons full of adult law breakers. It is hard to teach responsible behavior. Substance/Alcohol abuse is a significant ongoing problem in Marin for teens and adults. Posting to this thread is not about being right, it is just another dialogue. If we want to make Health Class meaningful then dealing with reality is a good start. When an issue becomes important enough it gets addressed. You can keep saying that there is no time, no money and no need but if we don't make this a priority we will keep losing children. If you want to give up that's fine. I don't. Talking about ideas, encouraging others to talk, inviting teens to post their thoughts, is all part of Patch. I know that is not the way you use Patch but then again, Patch is open to everyone, it's called free speech.
bryan farley November 23, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Brent, There is an inspiring program called Impact Teen Drivers http://www.impactteendrivers.org/ where real survivors talk to teens. Parents and family members who have lost loved ones speak to students. Drivers who have caused death also speak. First responders are also represented. I have watched two presentations (assembly?). This is not every 15 minutes.
Tina McMillan November 23, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Bryan What a great resource. Thank you for sharing it.
Steven Norwin November 24, 2012 at 02:24 AM
Chester, your post is the one that doesn't contribute anything!
Betty Pancakes November 24, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Au contraire, mon frere! I think Chester is spot-on, and his comment is just as relevant in this thread as it would be in any other post. The point of Patch is to have dialogue, discussion, conversation. However, when one poster does nothing short of hijack the entire process, endlessly "talking over" anybody and everybody who thinks or speaks differently than she, Patch becomes pointless and totally unenjoyable. Read the article, make your point, and then allow others to engage. Don't lecture, suffocate or trample on fellow posters. And in this particular thread, it is shameful that a serious discussion about the health, safety and well-being of Novato's youth is again being dominated by one poster who seemingly has all the answers. I disagree wholeheartedly with her holistic "ongoing health class" approach to the problem of teen drinking and driving. But she wins because she has time to type, copy and paste, and spew her rhetoric more than the rest of us.
Roger November 24, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Betty, I find Tina's postings more helpful and of value than your personal attacks of her. Your one idea ...having parents take their kids to the scene of the accident ... is in the helpful vein, although there is not much to see at the end of Sutro. I would like to hear more solution ideas from you and less whining and envy over the extra time Tina has to post. You start to sound like Mr. Grimes. I did like Brent's idea of a busted student telling his story to the student body.


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