If you perform a quick Google search using the phrase, “teen dui killed,” and click on “News,” at any given moment, you’ll see multiple news stories about teen DUI, involving fatal accidents. On average teen alcohol use kills 4,300 people each year, more than all illegal drugs combined. Although teen DUI has decreased in recent years for younger teens, the problem is still immense. We can still do more. The best place to start is with parents.
Most of the parents of the teens who cause fatal accidents did not suspect that their teen would be the next fatal DUI story to hit the news. This problem is highlighted by MADD (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving) who indicates that roughly one in seven teens binge drinks, yet only one in one hundred parents believe his or her teen binge drinks. Once parents admit that this can happen to any teen, even theirs, they will be much closer to preventing a tragic event like this from happening in their family.
It can happen to kids who have a wonderful family life, achieve straight A’s and seem like perfect all-American children. Like the Bromstrup case, where a 16-year old boy drove drunk and killed two young girls and altered the course of many lives forever. Their family had rules in place, there were communication lines in place, their son did well in school and excelled. His parents were in “total shock.” They couldn’t believe this had happened to their son and in their family.
These Boulder, Colorado DUI statistics from nearly a decade show that teen DUI arrests steadily rise from early teens and jump significantly between age 18 and 19. This trend continues for adults to age 21, after which they start to gradually decline. Boulder has seen a decline in teen DUI over the past 8 years, but there are still far too many arrests and this trend isn’t necessarily the same across the US, especially among older teens. Parents need to better educate their children from an early age about the dangers of underage drinking as well as the dangers of drinking and driving after age 21.
MADD has a tremendous resource called Power of Parents, which has downloadable resources that include, among other things, parenting styles, how to talk about alcohol, discussion checklists, a 20-minute virtual workshop, and a pocket guide. The 20-minute online workshop gives parents research-based tips and tools for talking with their children about alcohol so that they will really listen.
The discussion checklists, from the Power of Parents website, includes such things as conversation starters and scenarios where the youth and parent project what the end of the story may be, which can lead to specific conversations about scenarios they may encounter in the future.
One of the principles in the guide is “Emphasize 21.” The underlying principle is that young brains are still developing even into their 20s and that the earlier a child starts drinking the more severe the problems they will face in the short and long term. The guide also discusses how alcohol interferes with the growth of a youth’s brain and body. In short, they are not equipped to handle the responsibility or the effects of the drug since they are underdeveloped in every way. Although the age 21 drinking law has prevented countless DUI incidents, there is still so much to be done and Madd’s Power of Parents is a perfect place for families to start. Education by parents should happen long before a teen will be presented with these choices. The earlier discussions can take place with kids the better.
As parents take this problem seriously, admit that even their own children are at risk, and communicate with their kids from an early age about the dangers of alcohol and underage drinking, the number of teens that end up in the news because of a fatal DUI-related accident will decrease.