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Teenagers, drinking and driving: a quick trip to the grave

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-old youth in the U.S.
  • More than one quarter of the drivers killed in crashes had been drinking.
  • One alcohol-prevention curriculum was found to significantly reduce first-year serious traffic offenses.
  • The curriculum seemed to be particularly effective for kids who drank very little.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-old youth in the United States, according to mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics. More than one quarter of the drivers killed in crashes had been drinking. While all school-based alcohol prevention programs strive to minimize alcohol use and/or misuse, little is known about the actual effects of these programs, particularly on students' driving. A study in the March issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research examines the effects of a high school-based alcohol misuse prevention program on participants' subsequent driving behaviors.

"A law setting a minimum drinking age of 21 years exists in all the states," explained Jean T. Shope, senior research scientist with the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study. "Although it has reduced underage drinking and driving fatalities, we still have a problem."

In 1999, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,561 drivers 15 to 20 years old were killed - and an additional 362,000 injured - in traffic crashes. Of those young drivers fatally injured, 29 percent had been drinking. Although driving after drinking is potentially deadly under any circumstances, it is particularly dangerous when teenagers do it.

"It's important to look at the context of this behavior," said James Hedlund, a consultant in traffic safety for Highway Safety North. "Not only is their drinking illegal, because the minimum drinking age in the United Stat
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Contact: Jean T. Shope, Ph.D.
jshope@umich.edu
734-763-2466
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research
13-Mar-2001


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