A Parent’s Guide: Talking to Your Teen about Drinking and Driving

Injury and Accident Attorneys Serving St. Louis, Nearby Missouri, Fairview Heights, and Nearby Illinois

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Teenagers are mere mortals just like the rest of us. They don’t get a free pass when it comes to breaking the laws our State and Federal governments have put in place for us either. Taking a drink in the teen years can be seen as a passage of right, and a lot times those experiences don’t get shared with concerned parents. Since teens are involved in a disproportionate amount of alcohol-related vehicle fatalities, the limits and penalties involved are a lot stricter for underage drinkers than adults. That’s why we put this guide together for parents, who need more information, statistics, and the hard truth about teens who drink and drive.

What Does Getting a DUI for a Teen Look Like?

Not, only does every state in the nation have laws for driving under the influence (DUI), each of them have a “zero-tolerance policy” when it comes to underage drinking and driving. While penalties and fines may fluctuate a little between adult and underage DUIs, the implications have similar outcomes. The zero-tolerance laws adopted by each state make it illegal for teens to have even a tiny amount of alcohol in their systems. The standard DUI blood-alcohol threshold limit in most states is .08 percent for adults. For teens the limit is usually a lot lower, like .00 to .03 percent. The following table lists the crimes, penalties and fines associated with a teen receiving a DUI in Missouri (they actually call it driving while impaired (DWI)) and Illinois.

Kids in car with beer bottels

If your teenager is charged with an underage DUI, its best you speak with an experienced and trustworthy DUI attorney, because the only way to fight to keep your teenager’s license from being suspended is to schedule a Division of Motor Vehicle (DMV) hearing usually within 15 days of being charged. It will also give you an opportunity to ask any questions about how a DUI will impact their education, college scholarships, and financial aid.

A Realistic Look at the Underage Drinking and Driving Problem

The truth of the matter is, the dangers associated with underage drinking and driving are under-reported in the mainstream news. Sure, we hear all the time about adults being charged, tried, and convicted, but we very seldom hear about underage drivers being arrested, tried, and sentenced for drinking and driving. That’s primarily because we’ve tended to protect minors from the spotlight in our media. But, the truth of the matter is that there is a big problem associated with underage people drinking and driving. Here are some of the national and local statistics that prove it:

  • In 2016, approximately 10,500 deaths were reported to have occurred with alcohol-related accidents involving underage drivers; 128 of those deaths occurred in Missouri – 15 of which were teens; and, 315 deaths occurred in Illinois – with 24 being underage drivers, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility.
  • According to a 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) survey, about 7.3 million or 19 percent of teens in the U.S. between the ages of 12 and 20 have said they have consumed alcohol. That’s roughly 1-in-5 teens, who have admitted to taking part in a dangerous behavior.
  • The State of Missouri reports underage drinking to be a severe problem there, with approximately 247,000 underage youth reportedly taking a drink each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • In Illinois, teen DUIs reportedly cause approximately 15% – 17% of the state’s drinking-impaired driving fatalities (though drivers under 21 only account for 10% of drivers).
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens here in the U.S., according the CDC.
  • Every day, eight teens die from a DUI-related car crash, according to the CDC.
  • Underage drivers are four times more likely to die in a car crash than older drivers, according to the CDC.

Alcohol, by far, is the drug of choice for those under the age of 21. As a matter of act, alcohol is more popular with young people than cigarettes, cannabis, and other drugs.

How To Tell if Your Teen is Drinking

We are the molds and templates from which many of our beliefs and behaviors get passed on from us to our kids. For instance, if you are a hardy drinker, there’s a very good chance that social trait can get passed along to one or more of your children. What a lot of parents can’t often comprehend, is how can their son or daughter become so active drinking at such a young age. Well, chances are you’ve fostered that behavior in them.The old adage – like father or mother, like son and daughter – definitely applies. And, oftentimes, teens can be just as deceptive as adults at hiding their drinking. The following, although not a comprehensive list by any means, are some of the sings that your underage teen driver may be drinking socially with their friends, or have a full-blown drinking problem:

  • Overtly moody; prone to temper flare ups, grumpy, and defensive when questioned about their drinking
  • Poor performance at school, multiple tardy or attendance issues, declining grades, and school sanctions, such as suspension or expulsion
  • Turmoil at home surrounding the teen’s conduct
  • Rebellious attitude towards parental authority
  • Your teen has a sudden change in the group of friends they hang out with, and tend to not want their parents to meet these new friends
  • Teen begins to act lethargic, dresses sloppy, loss of interest in sports or former hobbies
  • Discovering alcohol in their room, school backpack, or hiding place
  • Notice odor of alcohol on them
  • Sudden interest in privacy, such as locking themselves in their room and not disclosing where they are going with friends
  • Bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, unexplained wounds and injuries

If you need absolute confirmation that your teen has been drinking, there’s several things you can do to verify your suspicions. You can hug them and smell them. Or, you can be more forceful and have them submit to a breath or urine test. You can order drug kits online from www.operationparent.org. Or, you can buy a 16-panel alcohol and drug test from Wal-Mart and other major retail outlets for approximately $16.50 to confirm or deny whether your teen has been drinking or using drugs.

How to Get the Conversation Started

The bottom line is, teens are a work in progress.

“The social centers develop faster than the executive center,” said Dr. Almaas Shaikh, trauma director of Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. Dr. Shaikh adds that the pre-frontal cortex, which is directly responsible for decision-making that affects outcomes and controlling urges or temptations, may not fully develop until sometime in their mid-20s.1

Just like adults, when a teen is charged and convicted of DUI, it can wreak havoc on their lives. It can affect friendships, employment, athletics, and other activities. Realizing all the downsides of having your teen driver get a DUI should be incentive to get the discussion started before anything ever happens.

Some counselors say talking about irresponsible drinking behaviors viewed on TV or in the media, is one way to get the discussion started.

According to the CDC, teens are on a mission when they drink – they drink to get drunk. So, perhaps the first place to start, is by informing your teen of your state’s “zero-tolerance law” for underage drinking and driving. The following are additions steps you can take to start talking to your teen about the importance of not drinking and driving:

  • Schedule a session with a high-school counselor or therapist to talk to them.
  • Form a loving and trusting relationship with your teen.
  • Have an open door policy, where your teen is allowed to talk to you without fear or punishment.
  • Explain the consequences and dangers of drinking and driving.
  • Stay involved in your teen’s life, activities, and form a network with the parents of their friends.
  • Make “House Rules” with tangible consequences for drinking and driving.
  • Be a good example, by not drinking and driving yourself. Set the standard for your own family.
  • Give them a family credit card to use to rent a taxi or pay for an Uber, if they find they have driven and start drinking.
  • Take a pro-active role in supervising their underage driver’s behaviors by requiring them to have a breathalyzer or safety app, like:
    • Safe Driver – Monitors drivers location, speed, and if they performed any infractions. Cost $4.99.
    • Bouncie – Monitors your teen’s driving history, habits, and location. Cost starts at $67.
    • Intoxalock – Voluntary interlock ignition device to prevent drinking and driving. Cost starts at $60 to $90 a month for analysis, and initial install fee of between $70 to $100.

Parent Teen Contracts

Helping your child prevent dangerous behaviors, like drinking and driving, is one of the most important parenting tasks you’ll have as they grow into young adults. Setting the standard and expectations for your household will go far at helping them stay alive and healthy. One final step you can take after talking to your teen is having them sign off on a Parent/Teen contract, so that all of your expectations are clearly stated and recorded for them to fall back on if their memory fails them. This document won’t just have expectations, but penalties, such as revoking their driving privileges or taking away their smart phone. Here’s a couple of pre-made “Parent/Child Drug and Alcohol Contracts;” one is from OperationParent and the other from Students Against Drunk Driving, so you can print one out and sign it with your child.

Sometimes the hard truth is the best way deal with life’s issues. And, underage drinking and driving happens to be one of those issues that requires serious attention and deliberate communication. Hopefully, this guide gives you the tools you need to be able to talk to your teen and keep them safe.