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Drinking And Driving: The Leading Cause Of Untimely Death In Adolescents

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Drinking and Driving: The Leading Cause of Untimely Death in Adolescents

The most horrifying event a parent can imagine is losing a child. Especially when it could have been avoided. According to David J. Hanson, "People aged sixteen to twenty-four were involved in twenty-eight percent of all alcohol related driving accidents, although they make up only fourteen percent of the population" (1). This statistic is shocking, but it should not be a surprise. A teenager in today's society is constantly pressured and bombarded by peers, parents, or advertising condoning the use alcohol. Drinking and driving among teenagers has become an epidemic and the staggering number of deceased is getting larger with each passing day.

Teenagers often view themselves as invincible. They are often in denial when it comes to being too intoxicated to drive. "Intoxication implies a loss of motor control, judgment ability, and reduced inhibition that can easily occur in adolescents with the intake of even a relatively small amount of alcohol" (Holger et al. 1). Unfortunately, many make the decision to get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated. As a result, "Driving under the influence has become the leading cause of death for young adults, aged fifteen to twenty-four years" (American Academy of Pediatrics 2).

Although the number of teenagers who die in alcohol related accidents is painfully high, it is down dramatically from previous years. Hanson explains that,

The proportion of American high school seniors who have ever consumed alcohol is down thirteen percent. The proportion of those who have consumed alcohol in the year prior to the survey is down fifteen percent. The proportion of those who have consumed alcohol in the thirty days prior to the survey is down twenty-seven percent. The proportion of those who have consumed alcohol daily prior to the survey is down sixty-seven percent. And the proportion of those who have "binged" (consumed five or more drinks on an occasion) within the two weeks prior to the survey is down twenty-four percent.

These statistics are encouraging. Hanson states that, "Deaths associated with young drinking drivers are down dramatically, having dropped forty-seven percent in a recent fifteen year period" (1). Great advancements have been made since 1984 and the statistics reflect a possible improvement in the war on adolescents who drive under the influence of alcohol.

The reasons for alcohol abuse among teens are numerous. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that young people admit that the reason they drink is to escape problems. Other children say they drink in order to fit in with peers. Also, parents who are alcoholics or problem drinkers place their children at an increased risk of drug dependence (2). One would be foolish to expect a child to grow up surrounded by alcohol abuse and not be negatively affected. We live in a society where adolescents see alcohol use by friends, parents, actors, and seemingly everyone else with which they come in contact. Even the youngest of children are subjected to this onslaught of subliminal messaging. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics,

One out of three fourth graders believe that drinking is a "big problem" in their age group. About one out of seven fourth graders already have consumed alcohol to the point of intoxication. Four out of ten sixth graders say there is pressure from other students to drink alcohol. Three million children aged fourteen to seventeen are problem drinkers (1).

By the time these fourth graders reach the driving age, it should be no surprise for them to have a drinking problem and possibly drive under the influence of alcohol. Since children as young as fourth grade have problems with alcohol, certainly older children have the same problems. It is even probable that the symptoms of alcohol addiction worsen significantly as the years progress.

In 1999, the New Zealand government lowered the drinking age from twenty-one to nineteen. As a result, there was an average increase of thirteen percent in alcohol related traffic crashes with injuries ("Lowering the Drinking Age" 1). A study by Robert B. Voas, PhD. found that,

Lowering the drinking age causes a dramatic increase in alcohol-related car crashes among young people. The authors estimated that four hundred serious injuries and twelve deaths a year among fifteen- to nineteen-year-olds could be avoided in New Zealand by raising the drinking age. Road traffic crashes account for more than half of all fatalities and are second only to pregnancy as a cause of hospitalization for fifteen to nineteen year olds. Alcohol impairment is the largest contributing cause of serious traffic crashes in this age group. The evidence is significant for the United States, because drinking and driving patterns among young people are similar (1-3).

This study seems to prove that strict regulations and enforcement of laws may be the answer to lowering the number of annual teenage deaths.

Skeptics say that teenagers are simply not responsible enough to drive, sober or not. Anna Quindlen hypothesizes that teenagers would be dying at this rate, regardless of alcohol use. She states that sixteen year olds are too young to drive. She points out that most European countries have a driving age of eighteen (Quindlen 1-2). She argues,

It's simple and inarguable: car crashes are the number one cause of death among fifteen- to twenty-year-olds in this country. Parents seem to treat the right of a sixteen-year-old to drive as an inalienable one, something to be neither questioned nor abridged. In a survey of young drivers, only half said they had seen a peer drive after drinking.



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