Drinking, Driving and Teens: They don’t mix
For drivers aged 16-19 in the United States, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHSHLDI) reports the fatal crash rate is three times as high as it is for drivers 20 years old and older. In 2015 alone, 2,715 teenagers died in accidents.
The reasons are apparent. Teens most often lack the experience to deal with many tense and dangerous situations they experience on the road, including poor visibility, hazardous weather, and careless motorists. But while many of these hazards are unavoidable, what is avoidable is drinking and driving. Being an inexperienced driver is dangerous enough; being an inexperienced driver and adding alcohol has the potential to be a deadly combination.
Between 2003 and 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 3,046 individuals died in Louisiana as a result of accidents involving alcohol. Overall, alcohol is involved in about one in three traffic fatalities in the United States each year. And, according to surveys, 2.5 percent of drivers in Louisiana report driving after having too much to drink, well beyond the national average of 1.9 percent.
In Louisiana, as in all other states, the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) is .08. According to NOLO, an online legal publishing site, however, that lowers to .02 percent for drivers under 21, and the penalties are the same. For the first offense, the minimum penalty in Louisiana for the first DUI offense is 32 hours of community service or two days in jail; the second offense is 240 hours of community service or 15 days in jail, and a third offense is a diversion program or one year in jail.
The CDC does, however, have several recommendations for ways to prevent drunk driving, not just among teens, but among all drivers. One of the most effective they mention is tougher laws, including zero-tolerance laws for all drivers under 21. This means it would be a crime for a teen to have any amount of alcohol in their system when operating a vehicle.
The CDC points out that school-based educational programs are effective. Education shows teens the potential risks and results of drinking and driving, as well as instructing them on proper safety procedures. Aside from emphasizing the need for teen drivers to refrain from drinking altogether, it teaches them the dangers of riding in vehicles with teens who have been drinking.
Mass media campaigns have proven effective not just in reaching teens but are aimed at adults as well in an effort to educate the populace about the dangers of drinking and driving.
The CDC also suggests administrative license revocation or suspension laws. This option allows the state to remove the license of anyone caught illegally drinking and driving, and to keep them from reinstating their license for a prescribed period of time. The CDC suggests 90 days has proven effective. This has the benefit, like sobriety checkpoints, of not only removing people that are drinking and driving from the roadways but also acting as a deterrent for those who might potentially drink and drive.
Overall, driving is dangerous enough, especially for inexperienced teenagers. Keeping alcohol away is a means of trying to keep the odds in their favor.
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