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Is drinking and driving among teens on the decline?


New statistics from the CDC show that teen drinking and driving rates are declining, but that driving under the influence of marijuana is on the rise. Additionally, the report notes that while, drinking and driving rates may be dropping, the statistic does not signal an overall drop in drug and alcohol use.

Drinking and driving rates among adolescents and young adults are dropping, but researchers say the decline is not necessarily a cause for celebration.

Alejandro Azofeifa, DDS, MSc, MPH, of the US Department of Health and Human Services, says although the decline is encouraging, the number of adolescents and young adults who continue to use alcohol and marijuana is still significant.

Related: Dangers of alcohol and first-time sex for teens

“Driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana is a risky behavior that can result in fatal motor vehicle accidents. Adolescents and young adult drivers under the influence of any psychoactive substance create an important public health problem that needs the attention of parents, public health officials, law enforcement, and federal and state officials,” Azofeifa says. “Primary care physicians should work with parents to stay vigilant as alcohol and marijuana initiation might coincide with adolescents’ first driving experiences.”

The new statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal a 54% decline in teenagers driving under the influence of alcohol, but indicate that driving while under the influence of marijuana may be increasing. While the CDC did not find a significant change in driving under the influence of marijuana, it cites a National Roadside Survey that shows a 48% increase.

From 2002 to 2014, the prevalence of self-reported driving under the influence of alcohol and alcohol and marijuana combined has been significantly declining among adolescents and young adults aged 16 to 20 years and 21 to 25 years, Azofeifa says.

“More specifically, the percentage of people aged 16 to 25 years who self-reported driving under the influence of alcohol alone changed from 13% in 2013 to 12.4% in 2014; for alcohol and marijuana combined the change was from 1.7% in 2013 to 1.6% in 2014,” he says.

The prevalence of drinking and driving among high school students dropped by 54% in the most recent report, from 22.3% in 1991 to 10.3% in 2011, but weekend nighttime driving under the influence of marijuana increased by 48%. The prevalence of driving under the influence of both marijuana and alcohol also declined by 39%, and the number of adolescents and young adults aged 16 to 20 years who drove under the influence of marijuana declined 18%.

NEXT: Further statistics


“Overall, in 2014, the reported prevalence of driving under the influence of alcohol alone was greater than that of marijuana alone or alcohol and marijuana combined, and when stratified by sex, age group, and race/ethnicity,” according to the report. “During 2002 to 2014, the reported prevalence of driving under the influence of alcohol alone among persons aged 16 to 20 years and 21 to 25 years declined from 16.2% to 6.6% and from 29.1% to 18.1%, respectively. In addition, the reported prevalence of driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana combined among persons aged 16 to 20 years and 21 to 25 years declined from 2.3% to 1.4% and 3.1% to 1.9%, respectively.”

The prevalence of driving under the influence of marijuana also did not significantly change during the study period in either age group, while the prevalence of driving under the influence of alcohol alone increased with age, from 1.5% among 16-year-olds to 18.1% among 21-year-olds. The study notes that drinking and driving prevalence rates seem to peak at age 21 years.

More: Winning the binge drinking battle

Motor vehicle accidents remain the leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults aged 16 to 25 years, despite decreases in risky driving behaviors.

Despite education and prevention efforts, a Johns Hopkins Bloomburg School of Public Health Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth report reveals that alcohol was involved in 31% of motor vehicle deaths involving teenagers and young adults aged 15 to 20 years, and 25% were legally drunk at the time of the accident. Severity of crashes increased with alcohol use as well, with 2% of crashes resulting in property damage; 4% of crashes resulting in injury; and 22% of crashed resulting in death when alcohol was a factor. Other risk behaviors increased, as well, including driving without restraints. According to the report, 63% of young drivers involved in crashes under the influence of alcohol did not use vehicle restraints, and 73% of those killed in motor vehicle accidents involving alcohol were not restrained.

Despite declines in drinking and driving rates, the CDC study also showed that, while more youths may be staying off the road, that doesn’t mean they are curtailing drug and alcohol use.

NEXT:  What may have led to the decline?


The study reveals that 60% of young adults aged 18 to 25 years reported using alcohol in the last month, with 38% of them reporting binge drinking. Another 20% reported using marijuana. The study did not review the prevalence of other illicit drug use.

Alcohol use among adolescents and young adults is a factor in a number of other consequences, as well, including risky sexual behavior, unintended injuries, and future alcohol dependence-the Johns Hopkins report notes adolescents who begin drinking in their teenaged years are 4 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence later in life than those that abstain until age 21 years.

Next: Marijuana legalization puts kids in harm's way

The CDC report attributes public safety campaigns such as minimum legal drinking age laws, roadside testing, and graduated driver licensing programs as all having some effect in this decline.

The findings of the CDC report echo those of other studies, including a recent report published in Pediatrics that revealed 80% of high school students will consume alcohol by graduation, and 60% admit to binge drinking.

Peer pressure is also a factor in these age groups, according to American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which revealed last year that teenagers who ride in a car with an impaired driver are more likely to repeat the same behavior themselves.

Parents and pediatricians should begin talking to children about alcohol between ages 9 and 13 years, according to updated guidance released in August 2015.

The CDC emphasizes that parents are key to keeping teenaged drivers safe, but that pediatricians can help. The agency recommends that pediatricians work with parents, educating them on the risks of teenaged drinking and driving, and emphasizing the need to lead by example. Pediatricians should also recommend parents use parent-teenager driving agreements with their children to outline expected behaviors and potential consequences.

The AAP recommends a number of tools for parents and pediatricians to use when talking to adolescents about alcohol use, including the following:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention for Youth. A Practitioner’s Guide

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. Talk. They Hear You.

The Guide to Community Preventive Services. Preventing Excessive Alcohol Consumption.

US Preventive Services Task Force. Alcohol Misuse: Screening and Behavioral Counseling Interventions in Primary Care.

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