Teen Drinking and Driving
A Dangerous Mix
The percentage of teens in high school who drink and drive has
decreased by more than half since 1991.
One in 10 teens in high school drinks and drives.*
Young drivers (ages 16-20) are 17 times more likely to die in a
crash when they have a blood alcohol concentration of .08% than
when they have not been drinking.
Drinking and driving can be deadly,
especially for teens
Fewer teens are drinking and driving, but this risky
behavior is still a major threat.
- Drinking and driving among teens in high school has gone down
by 54% since 1991. Still, high school teens drive after drinking
about 2.4 million times a month.
- 85% of teens in high school who report drinking and driving in
the past month also say they binge drank. In the survey, binge
drinking was defined as having 5 or more alcoholic drinks within a
couple of hours.
- 1 in 5 teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had some alcohol
in their system in 2010. Most of these drivers (81%) had BACs*
higher than the legal limit for adults.
*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.
Preventing Teen Drinking and Driving: What Works
- Minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) 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 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.
Research has demonstrated that 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.
- 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 that when parents establish and
enforce the “rules of the road”, new drivers report lower rates of
risky driving, traffic violations, and crashes.
The percentage of teens in high school, aged 16 years or
older, who drink and drive has decreased by more than
Source: Youth Risk Behavior Surveys,
United States, 1991-2011
Some teens in high school drink and drive more than
SOURCE: Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United
Percentage of teens in high school, aged 16 years or older, who
reported drinking and driving, by state.
SOURCE: Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, 41
states, 2011 Data not available for CA, HI, ME, MN, MO, NV, OR, PA,
States and communities
- Increase awareness among teens and parents.
- Strengthen enforcement of existing policies, such as minimum
legal drinking age and zero tolerance laws, and graduated driver
Pediatricians and other health
- Screen teens for risky behaviors, including the following:
- Using alcohol, drugs or other substances
- Driving after alcohol or drug use
- Riding with a driver who has been using alcohol or drugs
- Educate parents and teens about the risks of drinking and
- Encourage parents of new teen drivers to set and enforce the
"rules of the road" and consider tools like parent-teen driving
- Remind parents to lead by example as safe drivers, starting
even before their child is old enough to drive.
- Choose to never drink and drive.
- Refuse to ride in a car with a teen driver who has been
- Know and follow their state’s GDL laws.
- Follow "rules of the road" in their parent-teen driving
- Wear a seat belt on every trip, no matter how short.
- Obey speed limits.
- Never use a cell phone or text while driving.
- Understand that most teens who drink do so to get drunk.
- Recognize the dangers of teen drinking and driving and that
teen drivers are at much greater risk of crashing after drinking
alcohol than adult drivers.
- Provide teens with a safe way to get home (such as picking them
up or paying for a cab) if their driver has been drinking.
- Model safe driving behavior.
- Consider tools like parent-teen driving agreements to set and
enforce the "rules of the road" for new drivers. Safe driving
habits for teens include the following:
- Never drink and drive
- Follow state GDL laws
- Wear a seat belt 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