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Robert Longley

Teen Drunk Driving Cut in Half Since 1991

By October 8, 2012

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Drinking and driving among U.S. high school students has decreased by 54% since 1991, with nine out of 10 high school teens not drinking and driving during 2011, but more work is still needed, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In its latest monthly Vital Signs, the CDC analyzes data from national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys conducted between 1991 and 2011 in which high school students age 16 and older were asked if they had driven after drinking once or more during the previous 30 days.

While the 54% reduction in incidents of drunk driving is encouraging, CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden warned that one in 10 high school teens, aged 16 and older still drinks and drives.

"We are moving in the right direction. Rates of teen drinking and driving have been cut in half in 20 years," said Dr. Frieden in a press release. "But we must keep up the momentum."

The CDC's report also showed that teens still drove after drinking 2.4 million times a month during 2011, with some doing it more than once a month.

Even more disturbing, the report showed that 85% of high school teens who reported drinking and driving also reported binge drinking, consuming five or more drinks over a short period of time.

Also See: American Binge Drinker

As the CDC report noted, much of the credit for the 54% reduction in teen drinking and driving can be attributed to the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which required all states to pass and enforce laws making it illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under age 21 and for persons under 21 to drive after drinking any quantity of alcohol.

In addition, all 50 states now have graduated driver licensing systems under which teen drivers gain privileges, like driving with passengers or driving at night, over time.

Finally, the CDC stressed the importance of parents and other adults in preventing teens from drinking and driving.

"Teens learn from adults," said Pamela S. Hyde, 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."

Along with talking to their teen drivers, the CDC suggested parents consider entering into parent-teen driving agreements with their teens. In these contract-like agreements, teens agree, in return for driving privileges, to never drive after drinking any alcohol, always wear seat belts, follow all state graduated driver licensing rules and adopt other safe driving practices.

Also See: Underage Alcohol Use Starts at Home

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