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Help Teens Enjoy Holidays Safely

Dan Coon, Traffic Safety Programs Manager, AAA Washington

 The holiday season is a time of joy, giving thanks and  celebrating with family and friends.  Not a time to be marred by  the memory and sadness of a loved one involved in a fatal  traffic collision. 

 The sad truth is that impaired driving is the leading cause of      traffic deaths in Washington, and these deaths are preventable.  The Washington Traffic Safety Commission reports that from 2008  through 2014, more than 1,100 people died in impaired driving collisions in Washington. Impairment is a contributing factor in nearly half of all traffic deaths, and more than 20 percent of serious injury collisions.

The holiday season is no exception.  Someone is killed about every two days in Washington because of impaired driving. 

While recent trends indicate that alcohol-only impaired driving is declining, a growing body of evidence suggests driving under the influence of alcohol combined with marijuana is increasing.  Research on marijuana and driving by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission found that drivers between the ages of 16-25 were the largest proportion involved in fatal crashes who tested positive for THC.  This age group also had the highest proportion of drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) greater than or equal to .08.  Among drivers who tested positive for a combination of THC and a BAC greater than or equal to .08, 39.8 percent were ages 16-25.

Teens are at the greatest risk to suffer deadly results of impaired driving. Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for drivers ages 16-19 in Washington.  While teen drivers are less likely than adults to drive impaired – and most don’t – they’re more likely to crash than any other population group, if they do drive impaired.  

When teens are under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, it affects their balance, coordination, memory and judgment.  Add to this their lack of driving experience and ability to identify hazards, and this can be a deadly combination.

Driving is an important step to independence and at the same time a dangerous activity for teens. AAA’s Keys to Drive offers parents and teen drivers the tools and resources they need to be better and safer drivers. 

Here are some things you can do to help keep teens safe:

  • Talk with your teens about the dangers of alcohol and marijuana before they get behind the wheel.
  • Build trust with your teen so they are willing to call you for a safe ride home (such as picking them up or paying for a cab) if the driver in their group has been using alcohol or other drugs.
  • Be a model for safe driving behavior.  Your teen has been watching you drive for years and will copy your behavior.
  • Consider tools like parent-teen driving agreements to set and enforce the "rules of the road" for your teen driver. Safe driving habits for teens include the following:
  • Never drive after using alcohol or marijuana.
  • Follow Washington’s Graduated Driving License (GDL) laws.
  • Wear a seat belt on every trip.
  • Limit nighttime driving.
  • Set a limit on the number of teen passengers.
  • Never use a cell phone or text while driving.
  • Obey speed limits.

The holiday season offers many opportunities to celebrate with family and friends.  It only takes a few minutes to make a responsible decision that may prevent a tragedy. Be a part of the solution and help your teens, family members and friends make safe choices when driving.