For years, parents, researchers, and law enforcement have been looking for ways to stop teens from drinking and driving. After all, there is a reason people under age 21 are banned from purchasing alcohol in the U.S. – their bodies are more significantly affected by it than those of adults. Over the years, some of the educational efforts have worked. There are now 54 percent fewer teens drinking and driving than there were in 1991. While that is a big victory, it is not a win. There are still 1 million teens – approximately 1 in 10 – that get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol every year. So what can you do as a parent to stop this dangerous behavior for good?
It’s Not Just Alcohol…
Over the years, so much emphasis has been placed on drinking and driving that many people forget to address the dangers of driving while under the influence of substances of all types, including marijuana, sleeping pills, and illicit drugs. Although fewer teens are drinking and driving today than in the past, an alarming number – approximately 20 percent – admit to driving while under the influence of marijuana.
Though adolescence is often a time of experimentation, it does not mean teens need to engage in risky behaviors. As a parent, you can help reduce your child’s likelihood of driving under the influence by following a few simple tips.
Cut Off the Source
Random undercover compliance checks at retailers have contributed to reducing the number of teens who are able to purchase alcohol despite being under the minimum drinking age. That forces many teens to look to other sources for an alcohol supply. Believe it or not, one of the first places many teens look is in mom and dad’s liquor cabinet. Unfortunately, many parents are providing alcohol to their teens without even knowing it.
Play it safe. Lock up your alcohol whenever possible, and keep the key hidden somewhere your teenager cannot find it. Next, identify other potential sources of alcohol, such as an older sibling who is over age 21. Talk with them to ensure they will not give in to requests to become the supplier.
Make a Pact
Talking with your teen about drinking and driving is not enough. Research has shown that students who sign agreements in writing are less likely to engage in risky behavior. The Centers for Disease Control offer a free downloadable contract that addresses driving while inebriated.
Discuss Penalties and Consequences
Does your teenager know what could happen if he or she gets behind the wheel after consuming alcohol? In addition to being at a heightened risk of a crash, teens are also at risk of being caught by law enforcement. Since Wisconsin has zero tolerance for underage drinking and driving, first-time offenders could face fines, imprisonment, and license suspension for up to 9 months. In addition, a DUI can have an adverse impact on car insurance for teens, making it far harder to find affordable coverage.
Have a Back-Up Plan
Despite your best efforts, you cannot supervise your teenager 24-hours a day. In an ideal world, your teenager would never taste a sip of alcohol until his or her 21st birthday. The reality, however, is that approximately two-thirds of teenagers report drinking by age 18. That is why it pays to have a backup plan to prevent drunk driving. Be sure to give your teen an escape plan if he or she has been drinking. Whether it is the number of a family member, a secret texting code you share, or emergency cash to call for a taxi, ensure your teenager knows what to do if it is not safe to drive.