Friday October 5, 2012

Anyone who has or works with teenagers will tell you that it's sometimes difficult to tell if important messages like "don't drink and drive" are actually getting through. A newly released study from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention shows that teens really are listening.

The percentage of teens in high school who drove when they had been drinking alcohol decreased by 54 percent between 1991 and 2011, according to a Vital Signs study released this week by the CDC. Nine out of 10 high school teens did not drink and drive during 2011.

"We are moving in the right direction. Rates of teen drinking and driving have been cut in half in 20 years," said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, in a statement.

Many efforts have been helping to reduce teen drinking and driving. Some of the proven, effective strategies include the laws in place in every state that make it illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under age 21 and for those under age 21 to drive after drinking any alcohol, plus the graduated driver licensing systems in every state that allow teens to gain privileges, such as driving at night or driving with passengers, over time.

Parents also have a crucial role to play in keeping their teens safe on the road. They can model safe driving behavior and can consider using tools like parent-teen driving agreements with their teens. They also must continue to drive home the message, if you'll pardon the pun, that getting behind the wheel after having even one drink can have dire consequences.

It doesn't have to be a sit-down lecture with the teen fidgeting and rolling his or her eyes throughout the conversation. There are often small moments of opportunity in everyday life where parents can broach the subject, like discussing a news report about a fatal accident in which alcohol was the contributing factor or reading a police log that lists DUI offenders and the court's punishment.

"Teens learn from adults," said Pamela S. Hyde, the administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in a statement. "That is why it is critically important that parents, teachers, coaches and all caring adults in a young person's life talk with them early and often about the dangers of underage alcohol use as well as drinking and driving."

While the CDC study is encouraging, there is still more work to do. The report shows that teens were responsible for about 2.4 million episodes of drinking and driving a month in 2011. Some engaged in dangerous behavior more than once a month.

"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," said Frieden from the CDC.