Nearly one in every four American teenagers drives under the influence, according to a study (survey) published by Liberty Mutual and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). The authors added that many teens who were surveyed believe driving under the influence does not affect their safety.

It won’t be long before millions of American teens celebrate prom and graduation to mark either the end of their school year or high school careers and enter the more easy-going summer months.

Sadly, a significant number of teens combine their carefree attitude and newfound freedom with reckless actions, making prom, graduation plus the fourth of July among the most hazardous periods in the year for teenage driving.

There are 23 million teenagers who are old enough to drive in the USA. If 23% of them admit to driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or some other drug, this means millions of impaired youngsters driving on American roads within the next few months, the authors wrote.

Ninety-one percent of teens regard themselves as “safe” and “cautious” drivers. Surprisingly, many of them say that driving under the influence of marijuana, alcohol or other drugs is not a distraction or deterrent to their ability to drive properly.

Forty percent of teenagers who say they have driven while under the influence of alcohol claim that alcohol either improved their driving or made no difference.

Maybe of more concern was that among teenagers who admitted to driving under the influence of marijuana, three-quarters (75%) felt that the drug either had no impact on their driving or improved it.

There are over 3,000 teenage driving deaths annually in the USA, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

SADD and Liberty Mutual Insurance are urging parents to talk to their children about the dangers of driving under the influence.

Dave Melton, a driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual Insurance and managing director of global safety, said:

“The end of the school year and the summer months are exciting times for teens, but they are also the most dangerous. A celebratory toast can quickly lead to serious consequences down the line.

These new data illustrate that there is clearly a strong need to increase the level of education around safe driving. More importantly, it’s a flag for parents to make sure they talk to their kids regularly about the importance of safe driving behavior.”

Below are some data included in the study:

  • 23% of teens who have driven while on prescription medications said “not at all”
  • 25% of teens who have driven under the influence of marijuana said “not at all”
  • 14% of teens who have driven under the influence of alcohol said “not at all”

During the first six months of 2012 there were 19% more teen driver deaths (ages 16 and 17) on American roads compared to the same period in 2011, according to data from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Melton added “The fact that an overwhelming number of teens admit to extremely unsafe driving habits and completely dismiss any risk concern yet still consider themselves safe drivers means either teens have a different definition of ‘safe’ or we need to do a better job of educating kids about the dangers of this type of behavior.”

The survey found that approximately 11% of teenagers admitted to drinking and diving during the summer months. A series of celebratory events makes the coming months especially dangerous for teenagers behind the wheel. During prom and the graduation season, Fourth of July and the summer vacation weeks, millions of teenagers could be driving under the influence of marijuana, alcohol or other drugs.

According to the survey’s findings, the following percentage of teens have admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or other drugs during or after..:

  • 11% – Summer vacation months
  • 8% – Fourth of July
  • 6% – Prom night
  • 5% – Graduation, post graduation

Over 90% of teenagers say that their school has a policy or program to deter illegal behavior, usually in the form of security guards or police. The use of breathalyzers at school events has increased by almost 25%.

School programs can help keep teenagers from engaging in illegal activities. However, there is no substitute to speaking with your teen at home about safe and responsible driving practices.

Stephen Wallace, senior advisor for policy, research, and education at SADD, said:

“School programs can only go so far. For example, we know that teens are more likely to drink around events such as Fourth of July, which are less supervised than prom or graduation.

It is up to parents to talk to their teens about the dangers of driving under the influence. The Parent/Teen Driving Contract is a great way to startimportant conversations with your teen.”

Parents should consider having a Parent/Teen Driving Contract, SADD and Liberty Mutual recommend. The customized agreement allows parents/guardians to create and maintain “family driving rules”.

A Vital Sigs study, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October 2012, reported that 10% of American teenagers admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol during the preceding 30 days, a drop of 54% compared to 1991 (22%).

CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden described this fall as welcome news. However, he added that there were nearly one million teenagers in 2011 who were driving under the influence of alcohol.

A teenager is three times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash than older drivers.

Dr. Frieden said “We are moving in the right direction. Rates of teen drinking and driving have been cut in half in 20 years. But we must keep up the momentum — one in 10 high school teens, aged 16 and older, drinks and drives each month, endangering themselves and others.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist