March 17, 2014
News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Drunk Drivers' Teen Riders Likely to Imitate
Riding in cars with impaired drivers greatly increases the risk that a teenager will also drive after drinking, a study finds. The study was based on surveys of about 2,500 teenagers. They were surveyed every year from 10th through 12th grades. Depending on the survey, about 12% to 14% reported impaired driving in the last month. About 23% to 38% reported riding in cars with someone who was drunk or drugged in the last year. Numbers were adjusted to account for factors that affect the odds of impaired driving. These included drinking habits, gender and the level of parents' education and teen supervision. The more often teens rode with impaired drivers, the more likely they were to drive while impaired themselves. Those who reported riding with an impaired driver on a single survey were 11 times as likely to drive impaired as teens who never rode with an impaired driver. The likelihood of impaired driving was 34 or 127 times as great for teens who reported riding with impaired drivers on 2 or 3 surveys. The journal Pediatrics published the study online March 17. HealthDay News service wrote about it.
By Claire McCarthy, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
When teenagers ride in a car with someone who is driving drunk, they are more likely to drive drunk themselves.
That's the message of a study just published in the journal Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Researchers used information from the NEXT Generation Study. This is a study based on 3 surveys of students who were 10th graders in 2009-2010. Researchers looked at both driving drunk and riding in a car while intoxicated. They also looked at when the teens got their driver's licenses. Researchers recorded students' race, ethnicity, family income and the educational level of parents.
What the study found isn't that surprising. The more youth had the experience of riding in a car with a drunk driver, the more likely they were to drive drunk.
One major limitation was that the study didn't ask who was the driver when the youth were passengers. For example, was it a friend, a parent or another adult? This is an important question. The answers could make a difference in prevention efforts.
Another finding was that teens who got their licenses earlier were more likely to drive drunk. There wasn't a clear explanation for this. It could be that getting a license earlier gave them more years during which they might drink and drive. It could also be that there is something about youth who get their license earlier that makes them more likely to drink and drive. Maybe it's a lack of parental supervision, or something about their personalities or behavior.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
As everyone knows, driving drunk is extremely dangerous. In 2011, more than 30% of U.S. traffic deaths were caused by alcohol-impaired driving. It's crucial that parents do everything they can to prevent their children from drinking and driving.
The first and most important thing they can do is not drink and drive themselves. We can say whatever we want; it's what we do that youth watch. If parents have a few drinks at a party and then put the family in the car to drive home, or go out and later arrive home clearly drunk, that sends a message that it's OK to drink and drive. Parents should take a long, hard look at themselves and their habits. If they don't want their kids to drink and drive, they should never, ever do it themselves.
Parents also need to set clear rules and expectations about drinking and driving. And they need to follow through on any consequences. This has also been shown to help. Parents need to get to know their kids' friends, and know what their children are doing (as best they can). When parents get involved and monitor their teenagers, the risk of driving drunk goes down.
Also, given the results of this study, parents should think about whether it's a good idea for teenagers to get their licenses the moment they are old enough, as some teens want to do. It might be a good idea to wait a little while, and allow more time for maturing.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
Although this study is limited, it is helpful. It gives us some concrete ideas of things we can do to help prevent teens from drinking and driving. Given that about 10% of teens report drinking and driving in the last month, concrete ideas are very welcome.
I hope there will be more studies like these that give us more ways to save lives.