How Can Parents Help Prevent Teen DUIs?

Thanks to Sally Perkins for contributing this piece.

How Can Parents Help Prevent Teen DUIs?

As a parent of a teenage driver, it is vital to ensure that your child drives safely, both for their own benefit and those of others on the road. Sometimes, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the statistics; CBS recently deemed Montana the second most dangerous state in terms of young driving (Wyoming takes pole position), with the teen driver crash rate exceeding the national average for adult drivers by over 200%. The weekends are the deadliest days, no doubt because alcohol is more likely to be involved. Underage drinking is widespread in our state, with over 70% of students in grade nine to 12 having acknowledged that they had consumed at least one drink of alcohol on one or more days of their lives. To counter this trend, it is important for parents to build a strong connection with their teens, and to encourage them to drive responsibly.

Harm Caused by Teen Drinking in Montana

When drinking is involved, teens tend to take part in riskier behavior; they can take part in more violent activities, have more traffic accidents, engage in high-risk sex, destroy property, etc. The Montana Annual Report for Federal Fiscal Year 2016 notes that despite accounting for only 6.7% of the state’s population, teen drivers represent 16% of all fatalities and 23% of Montana’s total serious injuries. The Montana Department of Transport has set itself specific goals, including reducing the five-year average of young drivers involved in deadly crashes from 27 in 2014 to 24 y 2020. Even one lost life is too many. How can we counter current trends from within our homes?

Parental Influence in Fighting Teen Drivers Under the Influence

Research shows that when parents have a close relationship to their kids, the latter are far more likely to listen to them, and to make them a factor in doing the right thing behind the wheel. Parents can teach teens to drive safely by setting a good example; by never drinking then driving, even if they have had ‘just a couple’ of drinks. It is also important to share important facts with teen drivers – for instance, did you know that the risk of teen drivers dying in a crash doubles if friends are in the car? These are cold, hard statistics – they are not dependent on point of view, or morality; they speak to teens in a clear, direct way, and may just be the factor that makes them think twice before driving under the influence with other teens who have been drinking, or getting into a car driven by someone under the influence.

Parents can teach their children good habits at parties and other social events, by calling a cab after drinking or asking friends to give them a ride. They should also use alcohol responsibly; drinking excessively then demanding that teens ‘stay clean’, sends mixed messages. Parents should use clear, direct messages to let teens know that they disapprove of underage drinking, that their children can always call home to be picked up if for any reason they feel unsafe, and that there will be specific consequences for using alcohol or substances. Education should begin early, before teens even start going to parties or thinking of drinking.

Parents play a pivotal role in preventing teens from drinking and driving. Important steps to take include setting a good example, talking about underage drinking and driving and its consequences, and making car privileges dependent on mature, responsible behavior.


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