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

es is 21 years of age, but so too is their driving after drinking. Every state has a zero-tolerance law." Under these laws, teenage drivers detected with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02 grams per deciliter or above will lose their driver's licenses. "So drinking after driving is doubly illegal," he said.

"There are two overall methods to change someone's behavior: enforcement, and education," added Hedlund. "Legal interventions have been evaluated best, because they go into place at one given time, all over a state. But a high school prevention program doesn't work that way. It's usually put into place in one high school, often for a short period of time, and it's very difficult to measure its effects. One of the really good things about Shope's study is that she finds effects in long-term traffic offense data."

Shope's research is a follow-up to the Alcohol Misuse Prevention Study, in which five hour's worth of alcohol-education sessions were given to 10th-grade Michigan students during each of the 1988-1989 and 1989-1990 school years. For this study, Shope and her colleagues examined students' driving histories for roughly seven years following licensure, which typically occurs during or shortly after 10th grade. The study had three main findings.

"They found that the curriculum reduced serious traffic offenses, both alcohol-related offenses and other offenses as well, by about 20 percent in the first year these kids were licensed to drive," said Hedlund. "Second, the effect disappeared after the first year of driving. Third, the effect in the first year was strongest in two particular groups of students: those who didn't drink very much, and those who had parents who didn't seem to disapprove much of teen drinking."

Shope refers to the first finding as a "nearly significant decrease in serious offenses" among the group that received the alcohol-prevention sessions. This means, statistically speaking, the finding was margi

Contact: Jean T. Shope, Ph.D.
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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