Teenage Drinking and Driving

In this teenage drinking and driving article we cover some of the statistics of teen drunk driving, the impact parents can have on their teens' decision about drinking and driving, and how to successfully enforce rules about teenage drinking and driving.

Teenage drinking and driving causes thousands of preventable deaths every year and seriously injures thousands more people. Parents can help prevent these accidents by learning about teenage drinking and driving and taking steps to discourage their teens from driving drunk or riding with a drunk driver.

Teen drunk driving is a serious problem for the teens who are drinking, for their passengers, and for other people on the road. There are some concerning statistics about teenage drinking and driving:

  • Car crashes are the number one killer of teens aged 15 to 20.
  • One-third of teen traffic deaths - over 2,000 each year - are alcohol related. This number does not include adults and children who are killed by teen drunk drivers.
  • 400,000 teens suffer serious driving-related injuries every year, and many of these are alcohol related.
  • Even sober, teens are four times as likely as older drivers to be in an accident, mostly due to their inexperience on the road and bad driving habits.
  • When they drink, teens tend to drink too much or binge drink.
  • Teens who drink are twice as likely to cause an accident than older drunk drivers.
  • Teen drunk driving is surprisingly common. In one survey, 1 in 3 teens reported that they had been a passenger in a car with a drunk driver.
  • 3 out of 4 teens killed in drunk driving accidents were not wearing seatbelts.
  • Most teen deaths from car accidents occur on nights and weekends, when teens have been out at parties, are tired, and/or are distracted.

Thanks to increased education and awareness, the number of incidents involving teenage drinking and driving has declined, but it is still too high for a cause of death that can be prevented.

Parents can have a big impact on teenage drinking and driving. Some things that parents can do include:

  • Tell teens not to drink and drive, and tell them it’s because they could be killed, paralyzed, or otherwise seriously injured. They could also hurt or kill someone else. Let your teen know that you care about them and don’t want this to happen to them.
  • Set and enforce rules about driving, including no teenage drinking and driving. Establish reasonable consequences to rules and enforce them if the teen breaks the rules. Consider having a driving contract that states that if the teen drinks and drives he or she will lose his or her driving privileges.
  • If your state does not have a graduated driving license for teens, create one for your teen. This means that a beginning driver may only drive during the day, maybe to and from school, and may not have any passengers. As the teen gains experience, allow them to drive in more challenging situations.
  • Teens should be able to call a parent or another trusted adult to get a safe ride if they need it.
  • Encourage teens to have fun without using alcohol. Set a good example by enjoying your favorite activities without drinking and not encouraging people to drink to have fun. Never drink and drive.
  • Do not allow drugs or alcohol at parties at your house if teens are present. If teens drink at your house, you can be held legally responsible for anything that happens.
  • Know your teen’s friends and parents and make sure they know your rules too.
  • Ask teens where they are going, whom they will be with, and what they will be doing every time they go out.

Parents who set and consistently enforce rules can reduce the chances of teenage drinking and driving. A recent study reported by MedlinePlus showed that teens were half as likely to get into an accident or speed, twice as likely to wear a seatbelt, and 71 percent less likely to drink and drive when their parents set and enforced consistent rules. When teens have to ask permission to use the car, instead of just being able to take it when they want, it also decreases that chances that they will be in an accident or drive recklessly.

Help teens understand that your rules regarding driving are not about control, but about your concerns for their safety. Involve the teens in making the rules and deciding on the consequences to help them feel more trusted and involved, and to increase the likelihood that they will follow the rules. Putting the rules and consequences in writing and signing them helps to reinforce them, but driving contracts only work if parents are consistent in enforcing the consequences outlined in the contract if the rules are broken.


SAMHSA, Family Guide, "December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month" [online]

CDC Motor Vehicle Safety, "Teen Drivers: Fact Sheet" [online]

MedlinePlus, "Firm Parents Keep Teen Drivers Safe" [online]

Federal Trade Commission, We Don't Serve Teens, "Dangers of Teen Drinking" [online]

Related Article: Underage Drinking Consequences >>