As a traffic safety researcher and parent of three young adults, I encourage you to use the ‘Avoid the Regret, Avoid Impaired Driving’ theme during National Teen Driver Safety Week (NTDSW) and throughout the year with parents and teens. One of the major factors that increases the risk of a crash is impaired driving, which not only includes alcohol or drug use, but also distraction, fatigue, and strong emotions. Keeping the lines of communication open is important in helping to promote safe teen behaviors, as both a passenger and a driver.
According to CIRP@CHOP research, teens who said their parents set rules and monitor their whereabouts in a helpful, supportive way were half as likely to be in a crash in the prior year and 71 percent less likely to drive intoxicated compared with teens who described their parents as less involved. Teens who drink underage or who ride with impaired drivers are more likely to drive impaired themselves.[1-3] Teens who share knowledge about their lives with their parents are less likely to abuse alcohol in the future.
Our researchers are continuing to explore the behavioral aspects of strengthening this bond and recommend parents help teens plan for avoiding impaired driving so they can avoid future regret. Here are a few tips:
Talk about it. It is very important for parents to talk with their teens about riding with an impaired driver and driving impaired. These conversations should occur when they are asked to be driven by newly licensed friends or when they begin to drive on their own.
Share the facts. Alcohol affects our reaction times and ability to drive safely, as do other substances like marijuana and prescription pills. Teens must understand that consuming any of these substances means that they are unfit to drive.
Listen and be responsive to teens’ concerns, which are often quite practical. Although it may be difficult to hear, encourage teens to share potential unsafe scenarios where parents may need to help. These can include being asked to drive home with someone who is impaired or driving while impaired.
Develop rules and expectations together. Teens need to know that they can always call their parents for a ride home instead of getting in a car with an impaired driver or driving themselves without being punished. With parents being the reason for saying “no,” teens can avoid unsafe situations.
Help teens stay safe and save face. When faced with risky scenarios, including having to refuse a ride from someone who has been drinking, preventing a friend from driving impaired, or needing to be picked up by an impaired driver, consider making a concrete plan to help them stay safe. Decide how your teen will get in touch with you. Use a code word or phrase like: “How is Julie feeling?” that signals that they need help right away. The parent can respond with: “Not well, I need you to come home.”
Teens are at a developmental stage where they crave independence, and parents should reward responsible behavior with increased privileges. By discussing various scenarios that can lead to unsafe situations and a plan to deal with them, families can help teens feel comfortable making safety-oriented choices.
For more tips on helping teens avoid impaired driving, share this Parent Guide with families.
1 Zakrajsek JS, Shope JT. Longitudinal examination of underage drinking and subsequent drinking and risky driving. J Safety Res. 2006;37(5):443-451.
2 Li K, Simons-Morton BG, Brooks-Russell A, Ehsani J, Hingson R. Drinking and parenting practices as predictors of impaired driving behaviors among U.S. adolescents. J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2014; 75(1):5-15.
3 Li Ki, Simons-Morton BG, Vaca FE, Hingson R. Association between riding with an impaired driver and driving while impaired. Pediatrics. 2014; 133(4):620-626.
4 Beck KH, Boyle JR, Boekeloo BO. Parental monitoring and adolescent drinking: results of a 12-month follow-up. Am J Health Behav. 2004;28(3):272-279.