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Teens and DUI – Who’s Driving?

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

You might be certain that your teen never drives under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But can you say the same about the teens your child rides with?

A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health reports that 28% of high school seniors either drove under the influence in the past two weeks or rode with someone they know was under the influence. Driving after smoking marijuana has increased substantially over the past three years.

Over 17,000 high school seniors are surveyed every year as part of a long-term research project sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Clearly, this organization has a vested interest in finding high levels of usage among teens. However, the disturbing level of use – over a quarter of respondents or their friends – and the large scale of the study should make parents sit up and take notice.

Boys are more likely than girls to report driving after drinking or using marijuana or other drugs. But boys and girls report equally riding in a car driven by a friend they know had used alcohol or other substances recently enough to be impaired. These findings were the same across all economic levels and geographic locations.

You cannot chaperone your teen every moment. Even if your child doesn’t drive, his friends may and you are powerless to keep your child from riding along. Part of growing up includes evaluating situations and making good decisions. Kids have to have opportunities to do this.

At the same time, you want your teen to be safe. So do this:

  • Talk with your teen about driving under the influence and remember to talk specifically about riding with someone who might be under the influence.
  • Remind your teen that impairments in herself or her friends may not be obvious. She should make decisions about whom to ride with not depending on how steady her friend appears to be but on what he actually used.
  • Be clear that you will always come fetch your child from anywhere at any time, no questions asked, if he finds himself in a position where there is no safe way to get home without your help.
  • Help your child mentally rehearse what to say if a friend shouldn’t drive. The old saying, “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” applies here. Help your child know what to say. (Yes, your child will think scripting a conversation is dumb, but it will help!)

Automobile accidents continue to be a huge risk for teens, forming the number one cause of death. Help your child – and your child’s friends – to stay safe!


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.