I have probably faced as many terrible drunk driving stories as a police officer. Drinking and driving is not a new problem- sadly it has been around since Ford pushed its first vehicles off the assembly line and this problem continues to plague the United States with thousands of casualties and severe injures every year. When alcohol is teamed with a young, teenage driver’s inexperience behind the wheel it is a recipe for disaster.
Auto accidents remain the number one cause of death among teenagers and 60% of these fatalities are alcohol related. No matter how uncomfortable discussing alcohol and drunk driving with your child may be- the statistics show that having this simple discussion reduces the chance of alcohol related incidents dramatically.
Why do teens drink and drive?
The answer to this question you may come to realize if you simply look back at your own childhood and what reasons you had for partaking in certain behaviors. One of the biggest reasons teens do anything is peer pressure. From the desire to be cool teens will spend a fortune on ridiculous clothing, eat certain foods, listen to a particular kind of music and even succumb to use drugs and alcohol. This peer pressure may lead them to not only consume alcohol, but get behind the wheel drunk in order to drive their friends to the nearest Jack in the Box for a midnight snack.
Teens also have an undeniable disregard for safety, often called the invincibility mentality. Teens watch the news and see the horror stories of drunk drivers, but believe as superman these things can never happen to them.
Teens may also drive after drinking out of fear of being caught—they are afraid of their parent’s wrath and would rather risk the drive than call and confess their illegal actions.
There are a few great steps you can take as a parent to reduce the risk of your child falling victim to a tragic drunk driving incident- acquaint them with your opinions, set rules , reduce the risk, and have the talk.
Discuss your opinions
Discussions should begin early on- well before the teenage years. If the topic is introduced to teens there is a great chance they will ignore your opinions as an act of adolescent rebellion. If the conversation is started early on, however, the child will be raised knowing the expectations and there will be no need for a rebellion-inducing lecture later on. It is never too late to introduce this topic, however, and it definitely rings true- better late than never.
Set rules and consequences are essential to the battle against teenage drinking and driving. Alcohol studies from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol show that teens are less likely to use and abuse alcohol if their parents have set rules and consequences.
Tips for making rules:
• Set your rules and expectations – set rules in advance and make sure your teen knows the consequences for breaking the rules.
• Be consistent in enforcing the rules.
• Check in time- Have a set time for your teens to check in when they are away from home
• Know the other parents- Keep contact with the parents of your child’s friends.
If your child is attending a party offer to help the other parents with snacks and supervision.
• Make leaving simple- Ensure that it is easy for your teen to leave a party where alcohol is present. If they are riding with a friend make sure they are comfortable calling home for a ride back.
• Don’t ignore your intuition- if you have a gut feeling something is askew- talk to your child.
Reduce the Risk
Though as parents we hate to admit that our children can be deceitful, looking back at your own childhood I am sure you can remember a time when you were not completely honest with your parents. There are certain steps you can take beyond rules and punishment to reduce your child’s risk of being involved in a drunk driving accident.
• Ask the questions- When your teen goes out make sure you ask the questions- who they will be with, what is the purpose or event, when they will be back, exactly where they will be and how are they getting there and back.
• Keep house parties from happening- We all hate to think that our children would have alcohol in the house while we are away on vacation, but the fact is those television representations of high school parties with the loud music, broken glass, keg stands and an all around mess are quite possible. The ways to prevent this are simple- when you go out of town either arrange for your child to stay with a nearby friend or relative, have a trusted adult stay at the house with them or have a neighbor keep an eye on the house and inform your teen that they will be doing so.
• Check in- Call where your kids are going to verify the occasion and ensure an adult will be home. Know the location of where your teen will be before hand
• Contract for Life- SADD has produced a contract for life which both teens and parents sign agreeing that if the teen is intoxicated or at a party with alcohol they can call the parents to pick them up and they will defer the conversation and questions until a later time with both sides have calmed/sobered up.
Have the Talk
It can be awkward figuring out what to say to your teen about drunk driving, but it is necessary to reduce your child’s risk of being involved in a fatal drunk driving crash. Studies show kids raised in households with a strong no-use message are less likely to consume alcohol or use drugs. Talking about drugs and alcohol, however, is not a one-time conversation, but an ongoing conversation started at a young age.
The conversation starts young by parents explaining their views on drugs and alcohol to their children and evolves to include the reasons why. When your child is in there tweens and teens it is good to present the facts and examples of how drinking can and has affected lives. There are many resources you can use to get this point across…
Help your teen realize the severity of drinking and driving. Thousands of people die every year in car accidents at the hands of drunk drivers. Some of these drivers take their own lives, but more often than not they take the lives of other innocent people on the road.