Should The Legal Drinking Age Change From 21?

breathalyzerIs 21 the right age for young people to start drinking alcohol? That debate has been going on for decades in the USA. Prior to 1984, some states varied between a drinking age set to 18 or 19 years old – ages that are standard all over the world. When Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act that year, every state had to set their minimum drinking age to 21 or lose 10% of their federal highway funds.

Since that time the topic has come up again and again in newspapers and online, and a recent New York Times Op-Ed once again raised the question of how young is too young to drink. This time, the author of the article recommended the drinking age be dropped to 19.

On one hand, changing the legal age would result in less policing on the part of colleges and universities who have an influx of students coming straight from high school. On the other, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has cited stats showing how teen drinking can lead to alcohol abuse later on in life and teen drinkers are 7 times more likely to be involved in a crash. Because of that, the author of the Op-Ed recommended increasing the driving age from 16 and lowering the drinking age to 19. But is that the right thing to do?

All states have zero tolerance laws for underage drinking and driving, and if a teen registers even .01 on a breathalyzer they can lose their driver’s license for a period of time. Despite the stiff penalties for anyone who drinks and drives while underage, vehicle crashes, especially alcohol-related crashes, are still the leading cause of death for teens under the age of 21.

The age of 21 was set specifically to deter young people from underage drinking and underage drinking and driving. Is it working? Statistics show that there has been a 50% drop in underage drinking and driving since 1991, but there are still thousands of lives lost every year in alcohol-related crashes.

The debate about the drinking age will continue, but whatever is decided, the central focus should remain on preventing young people from getting behind the wheel after drinking.

3 Reasons Why You’d Voluntarily Install An Ignition Interlock

ignition interlockIgnition interlocks have been proven as an effective way of keeping drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel. For first time offenders who happen to live in a state where ignition interlocks are required for all offenders, or repeat offenders who continue to drive impaired even with a suspended license, having an ignition interlock will stop them from even starting their vehicle if they’ve been drinking.

But there are a growing number of people installing ignition interlock devices who aren’t drunk drivers and who don’t have a driving under the influence (DUI) conviction on record. Here are 3 reasons why people are voluntarily installing an ignition interlock device:

To protect young drivers

Parents of young drivers have a lot to worry about. Not only are young drivers inexperienced behind the wheel, they also have a higher likelihood of dying in a car crash than any other age group. Teens are no strangers to underage drinking either, and in 2010 22% of teens involved in fatal crashes were under the influence of alcohol. That’s why some parents are electing to install an ignition interlock in their vehicles. It’s one way to ensure their young drivers don’t get behind the wheel after drinking, and the device will give a parent peace of mind when their teens are out.

To ensure employees aren’t drinking on the job

Although the US standard blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08, there is a different blood alcohol concentration limit for commercial drivers. In most states the limit at which you can drive a commercial vehicle is .04%, but some employers aren’t interested in having an employee drive with any amount of alcohol in their system. Installing a voluntary ignition interlock into company owned vehicles and having drivers blow before driving makes sense for both employee safety and protecting company assets.

To keep yourself on the straight and narrow

If you have a previous problem with substance abuse or you’ve driven drunk without being stopped by the police, you may not trust yourself when you’re out after a few drinks. Installing an ignition interlock device to make sure you don’t drink and drive is a good idea, especially because drinking alcohol can make you throw good sense out the window.

Although most ignition interlock devices are installed on a judge’s order, more and more people are looking into interlock devices for teen drivers, employees, or themselves because they know drinking and driving can kill. Voluntarily installing the device is a good idea for anyone interested in staying safe on the road.

Back To School A Good Time To Focus On Teen Distracted Driving

Teen Distracted DrivingWhen teens take driver training, their instructors ask them to keep their eyes on the road and their hands in the 10 and 2 position on the steering wheel. But for many teens, as soon as driver training is over the rules fly out the window, and that includes keeping your eyes on the road. From texting to focusing on passengers in the vehicle, distracted driving is one of the biggest threats to teens today.

Back to school time is a great time to be reminded of the dangers of distracted driving. The Bakersfield, California Highway Patrol have upped their efforts to save lives and eliminate distracted driving in school zones by launching ‘Operation No Cell Phones Around Schools.’ Taking place from Monday, August 25th to Friday, August 29th, the campaign included “Operation Cell Free Friday, Saturday, and Sunday” over the Labor Day weekend. Although this specific campaign has concluded, they will still be patrolling school zones and checking drivers for distracted driving and cell phone use.

Because teens are novice drivers, anything that takes their attention away from the road is going to up their risk of crashing. Many states have an outright ban on novice drivers using handheld devices in vehicles, but teens continue to text and drive. 13% of teens in 2011 crashes admitted to using their cell phone at the time of the crash. That’s 1.3 million preventable crashes due to cell phone use, a number that has to decrease.

Teen distracted drivers can turn into adult distracted drivers too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than 9 people in the USA are killed every day due to distracted driving, and more than 1000 are injured in distracted driving crashes.

With teen risk so high, campaigns to target distracted driving like ‘Operation No Cell Phones Around Schools’ become an important way to remind teens why taking your eyes off the road for even 5 seconds can result in a crash. If your teen is stopped during the first few weeks of back to school for distracted driving, consider it an opportunity to sit down and talk with them about how dangerous cell phone use is when driving a vehicle.

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Kick Off The School Year By Talking About Teen Drinking And Driving

Teen Drinking And DrivingIt’s back to school time again, and with back to school comes teens getting together for parties to kick off the school year. With these teen parties comes the possibility of teen drinking, so this year Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) would like parents to sit down and talk with their teens about the dangers of teen drinking and teen drinking and driving.

Although most states have a zero tolerance policy for anyone drinking under the legal age of 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that almost 1 million high school aged teens choose to drink and drive in 2011. That number may seem high, but it has dropped over the past decade. In 1991, there were 50% more teens drinking and driving than recent years.

But a decrease in the numbers of teens driving under the influence (DUI) hasn’t stopped teen crashes. Crashes are the biggest cause of death for teens in the United States, and teens are four times more likely to die in a crash than someone over the age of 21. An even bigger eye-opener is data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Committee showing that over 500 people died in 2011 crashes as a result of drinking and driving by teens between the ages of 14 to 18.

Statistics like this highlight why it’s so important to sit down with your teens and discuss the dangers of drinking as well as the dangers of drinking and driving. Yes, it’s a lot less likely than in years past that teens will drink and drive, but it’s something that’s still happening all over the United States.

The beginning of the school year is one of the most dangerous times for teen drinking, so make sure your teen kicks it off the right way by encouraging them to make responsible choices, not drink until they are legal age, and never get behind the wheel if they’ve had a drink.

Teens Take To The Test Track To Learn About Distracted Driving

distracted drivingDistracted driving is a growing problem in the United States, and distraction is one of the biggest issues facing teen drivers today. 10% of all drivers under the age of 20 who were involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time of the crash, and they make up part of an estimated 421,000 people in all age categories who were injured in distracted driving crashes in 2012. This number is up from 2011, when 387,000 people were injured.

To give teens an idea of how distraction can affect their driving skills, the Livingston County sheriff department put 40 teenagers, all between the ages of 15 to 18, behind the wheel of vehicle and asked them to drive through a course designed specifically to simulate distracted driving. The track is part of the ‘Distracted Driving Initiative’ where teens attended a classroom session before they drove on the test track.

The teens drove with supervision of the police and took part in 4 distracted driving scenarios that included everything from a blaring radio, passengers screaming, wearing goggles to mimic drinking and driving, and letting the teen text while driving. What happened when the teens were distracted? They drove over orange traffic cones and swerved out of their lanes. Imagine if that was real life and the cones were other cars.

Most teens taking part in the test track admitted they underestimated the power of distracted driving. The test was also a good reminder of how little time it takes to crash a vehicle. Livingston County sheriffs told the teens that a vehicle will move 70 feet per second when you’re driving 55 mph, and anything can happen in that one second.

Sometimes it takes a wake up call and real life lesson to learn just how dangerous a behavior is, and it’s safe to say that these teens learned just how much of a toll distraction can take while driving.

No Easy Way Out For Teens Driving Under The Influence In Florida

driving under the influence in FloridaIf you’re under the age of 21, you can’t even have one drink before getting behind the wheel. That’s the bottom line with zero tolerance laws, and if you’re caught you’ll immediately lose your license for a period of time as determined by your state. But a few teens found out the hard way that driving under the influence in Florida (DUI) can have consequences far more severe than just the loss of their license.

Take Erin Skye Starkey for example – the 18 year old was arrested after she drove intoxicated with a child in the vehicle, hit a bicyclist from behind, left the scene, and then crashed into her own house. When her blood alcohol level was tested, she blew .196, which is far over the legal limit of .02 for under 21 and .08 for over 21. Because she choose to drink and drive, she has been charged with DUI and child neglect.

Joshua Beckwith is another 18 year old in Florida who got behind the wheel after drinking and is now going to pay a severe price for his actions. After hitting a utility pole, mailbox, and street sign, then injuring three of his passengers, Beckwith was arrested and booked on one count of driving under the influence, one count of driving under the influence and serious bodily injury to another, and 7 counts of driving under the influence and property damage. Not only did he need to pay a $14,000 bond to be released from lockup, he’s also going to be held accountable to Florida’s DUI laws and will have to pay fines, may spend time in jail, and may be required to install an ignition interlock in his vehicle after his license suspension.

Making mistakes is part of growing up, and teens will definitely make a wrong choice or two as they grow into adults. Unfortunately for these teens, the choice to drink and drive isn’t an error in judgment – it’s a choice that has long-term consequences no matter how old you are.

Could one question have
saved two lives in Florida?

Every day 28 people die because of drunk driving. Some are just victims – people in the wrong place in the wrong time. Others are the ones who make the reckless decision – they drink, and then get behind the wheel, heedless of the consequences.

28-people-die-from-drunk-driving-every-dayBut others’ decisions can have an impact, even when a driver clearly decides to drive while drunk. In Coral Springs, Florida, a woman named Kayla Mendoza was involved in a fatal accident last November after downing two margaritas containing a total of six shots of tequila. Reports say she was going well over 80 in the wrong direction on the Sawgrass Expressway when she crashed into another car, killing two young women. Kayla Mendoza has been charged with DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. Her boss, Marcelo Bruzzo, was in the car with her.

Apparently it was Kayla’s decision to drink and drive, and her boss’s decision not to prevent her. But does that mean the crash was inevitable?

One question could have prevented two drunk driving deaths.margarita

Before the crash Mendoza and Bruzzo had been at a restaurant where they downed the drinks that clouded their judgment. Had the waiter asked, “May I see your driver’s license?” then the margaritas would not have been served, and perhaps the two victims would be alive today. Because Kayla Mendoza was 20 years old, below the legal drinking age.

If there’s a moral in this sad story, it’s that all of us have a responsibility to prevent drunk driving: friends, spouses, family, bystanders, hosts, and yes, waiters. When people are too impaired to take responsibility for their lives, we need to take it for them.

To repeat: every day 28 people die because of drunk driving. It’s hard to know how many could have been saved by the quick action of others on that November day, but we do know this:

But for one question, it could have been 26.

Efforts Increase to Eliminate Underage DUI

Young Driver imageUnderage DUIs are on the rise. This prompted a recent study by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). The study set out to assess teen understanding of drinking under the influence versus actual behaviors.

The survey uncovered a clear discrepancy between the what teens say and what they do. For instance, one in 10 teens surveyed about their driving behaviors responded that they never drive under the influence. At the same time they said they sometimes get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol. In addition, although 86 percent consider driving under the influence to either be extremely or very distracting, 68 percent admitted to driving after having more than three drinks. Also, 21 percent defined designated drivers as those who were “basically sober” and who, they believed, were not too impaired to drive.

Of all the teens surveyed, only 1 percent believed that driving under the influence of alcohol was acceptable. And yet 40 percent claim that alcohol has no impact on their driving. Some said it even helped.

This is a troubling finding. According to Stephen Gray Wallace, senior advisor for policy, research and education at SADD, “With teens reporting these lax definitions of what it means to be ‘under the influence,’ a zero tolerance approach is the only answer to prevent potential tragedy.” He advocates for parents and community to create an open dialog with teen drivers to ensure they understand the true stakes in these definitions.

Underage DUI Education in Action

Some schools are heeding the call for education and providing programs. In Elk Grove, California, the Laguna Creek High School was the site of a law court. This event provided teens a lesson on the consequences of drinking and driving. They witnessed an actual trial of a woman arrested for drunk driving on Super Bowl Sunday.

Hamilton High School near Chico held a similar DUI court as two defendants charged with DUIs faced real-life sentencing.  Students were clearly moved by the reality of the situation.

Still other schools use simulator programs to help students understand the physicality of alcohol impairment. The West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration (WVABCA) in partnership with State Farm and the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program created a DUI simulator. This allows students to experience difficult driving conditions under various blood alcohol content (BAC) levels. The DUI simulator has been to every high school in the state and even to numerous colleges and universities.  Over 20,000 students have participated.

San Jose has several DUI education programs including a “Crash Trailer.” This exhibit contains an automobile involved in a fatal traffic involving a drunk driver. It also provides a 2 day program called Every 15 Minutes involving a staged DUI fatal collision and mock funeral.

At Keyser High School in West Virginia, students witness a lifelike mock DUI accident staged by local first responders. The accident involves a set up involving two vehicles, one on its top, to illustrate the reality of potential dangers of drinking while driving. People portray the victims, replete with blood. The first responders even cut two of the victims out of the car.

Ford has created a new suit that simulates being drunk and can be used to train people, especially young drivers, how it feels before they try it in real life.

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