CDC Study Shows 54 Percent Decrease in Teen Drinking and Driving Since 1991

Nearly one million high school teens still drink and drive each year. The percentage of teens in high school (aged 16 or older) who drove when they had been drinking alcohol decreased by 54 percent between 1991 and 2011, according to new Vital Signs study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nine out of 10 high school teens were not drinking and driving during 2011, the study reported.

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Teens learn from adults. That is why it is critically important that parents, teachers, coaches and all caring adults in a young person’s life talk with them early and often about the dangers of underage alcohol use as well as drinking and driving.

Atlanta, GA (PRWEB) October 04, 2012

“We are moving in the right direction. Rates of teen drinking and driving have been cut in half in 20 years,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “But we must keep up the momentum -- 1 in 10 high school teens drinks and drives each month, endangering themselves and others.”

For the study, CDC analyzed data from the 1991-2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS). This national survey asked high school students if they had driven a vehicle when they had been drinking alcohol one or more times during the 30 days before the survey; CDC researchers focused their analysis on students aged 16 and older.

The study also found that:

  •     Teens were responsible for approximately 2.4 million episodes of drinking and driving a month in 2011; some engaged in the dangerous behavior more than once a month.
  •     High school boys ages 18 and older were most likely to drink and drive (18 percent), while 16-year-old high school girls were least likely (6 percent).
  •     Eighty-five percent of teens in high school who reported drinking and driving in the past month also reported binge drinking. For YRBS, binge drinking means five or more drinks during a short period of time.

“Teens learn from adults,” said Pamela S. Hyde, the Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “That is why it is critically important that parents, teachers, coaches and all caring adults in a young person’s life talk with them early and often about the dangers of underage alcohol use as well as drinking and driving.”

Many efforts have been helping to reduce teen drinking and driving. Some of the proven, effective strategies include:

  •     Minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) laws in every state make it illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under age 21. Enforcement of MLDA laws using alcohol retailer compliance checks has reduced retail sales of alcohol to those under the legal drinking age.
  •     Zero tolerance laws in every state make it illegal for those under age 21 to drive after drinking any alcohol. These laws have reduced drinking and driving crashes involving teens.
  •     Graduated driver licensing (GDL) 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. Every state has GDL, but the specific rules vary. Research indicates that GDL systems prevent crashes and save lives.

Parents also have a crucial role to play in keeping their teens safe on the road. They can model safe driving behavior and set and enforce the “rules of the road” by completing a parent-teen driving agreement with their teens. Safe driving habits for teens include never drinking and driving, following state GDL laws, and wearing a seat belt on every trip.

CDC's Injury Center works to protect the safety of everyone on the roads, every day. For more information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety. In addition, CDC’s Parents Are the Key campaign, at http://www.cdc.gov/parentsarethekey, offers parents of teen drivers information, tools, and proven tips to help protect their teens from crashes.

Vital Signs is a CDC report that appears on the first Tuesday of the month as part of the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, or MMWR. The report provides the latest data and information on key health indicators. These are cancer prevention, obesity, tobacco use, motor vehicle passenger safety, prescription drug overdose, HIV/AIDS, alcohol use, health care–associated infections, cardiovascular health, teen pregnancy, food safety and viral hepatitis.


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  • Division of News and Media Relations
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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