Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens in the U.S. and teens are four times more likely to die or be injured in a car crash than older people. And of those teens, a startling number of fatalities occur in DUI incidents. Eight teens die every day in DUI crashes and 60 percent of all teen deaths in car accidents are alcohol-related. In 2003, 31% of teen drivers who died in car accidents had been drinking. A teenage boy with a blood alcohol concentration of just 0.05 (well below the amount considered “legally drunk” in most states) is 18 times more likely to suffer a single vehicle crash than his non-drinking counterparts. And a teenage girl is 54 times more likely to crash.  Teens are more likely to speed, run red lights, make illegal turns, ride with an intoxicated driver, and drive after using alcohol or drugs.

Teen DUI - Car sheared in half leaving driver paralysed and passenger dead

Teen DUI – Car sheared in half leaving one driver paralysed and passenger dead

Teens are already at high risk when they’re sober behind the wheel because of their lack of driving experience but they are still more likely to drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Even when their blood alcohol contents (BACs) are not high, young drinkers are involved in driving accidents at higher rates than older drivers with similar BACs.
DUI teen driver left with critical injuries and 17 year old passenger killed

In 2005, 7420 teens died or injured in DUI crashes. Teen fatalities make up one-fifth of all alcohol-related crashes, though licensed teens make up only about 6% of the overall licensed population. In contrast to popular belief, drinking among young people is dropping and has been doing so for many years. For example, statistics demonstrate that within a period of about 20 years, the proportion of American high school seniors who have ever consumed alcohol is down 13%. Driving accidents have been declining among young people also, just as they have among the general population. And deaths associated with young drinking drivers (those 16 to 24 years of age) are down dramatically, having dropped 47% in a recent 15-year period but the current statistics remain startling.

A scary thought and reality for the U.S.; According to the latest statistics, the prospect of you or someone in your family being involved in an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident is more than just very likely, it’s a statistical certainty. Incredibly, in a family of five, the chance that someone in the family will be involved in an alcohol-related motor vehicle crash in their lifetime is an unbelievable 200 percent. This means there is a 200 percent chance that you or someone in your family will either cause or be a victim to a drunken driving accident. And perhaps, most horrible of all a disproportionately high number of those deaths and accidents come in the 15 to 24 age group, before life has really even begun.

In 2011 the findings of the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD) was published. This can be compared against Monitoring the Future survey done in the U.S. to establish differences between drinking and drug abuse amongst European and American teens.  It shows that American teens were less likely to drink and smoke tobacco, but much more likely to use illegal drugs. The average rate of teens that drank alcohol in the past 30 days was 57% in the 36 European countries, while 27% of U.S. students reported alcohol use in the past month. Overall U.S. teens were reported to abuse marijuana the most and students there stated they viewed it a less of a “great risk” than Europeans. U.S. teens also ranked higher in the use of all other illicit drugs (16%).  Access the survey here

Bearing this in mind, how do the teen DUI statistics differ between the U.S. and EU where the legal alcohol consumption age is 18 years old instead of 21?

There is a common misconception that European teens who are legally allowed to drink at a younger age are less likely to binge drink and abuse alcohol than their American counterparts because US teens are forced to drink “underground” leading to ill-advised and irresponsible consumption. But, the research above suggests this isn’t the case. The findings of research in the EU on DUI’s and young people (aged 16-24) is very similar to that of the U.S. in the sense that young drivers make up the largest proportion of drivers involved in car accidents. Road accidents were the single biggest killer of 15-24 year olds in the EU according to a 2006 study. In most EU countries, young people are far more likely to be victims of road collisions than people in any other age group, just like in the US. They account for a large part of road victims, 20.4% of all persons killed in road accidents in 2006 were aged 16-24 years old, whereas only 11.4% of the population falls within this age group. Just like teens in the US (and I suspect in most countries/continents) EU teens were found to be more likely to be involved in road traffic accidents due to their social and biological immaturity and their lack of driving experience and again a big factor is that young drivers are often driving under the influence of alcohol. Also just as in the US it was said that even when their BACs are not high, young drink drivers are involved in accidents at higher rates than older drivers with similar BACs. Link to survey

So with very similar DUI statistics what conclusion can we come to regarding a solution for teen DUI problems in the US? Some suggest lowering the legal alcohol consumption age may be the key but we can see from the EU statistics that this isn’t the answer. Perhaps increasing the legal driving age should be the answer. (Pause for every teen in America to gasp with horror) In reality though if we consider the facts, the younger the driver the more likely they are to be involved in an accident, whether it is while they are under the influence or not.

Teen DUI - Teen passeneger killed, teen driver charged with DUI manslaughter

Teen DUI – Teen passeneger killed, teen driver charged with DUI manslaughter

Of course this is in part, down to inexperience at driving and they need to be able to gain this experience at some point. But, if a 16 year old can’t legally enter into a contract, buy a pack of cigarettes or a beer or even go to an NC-17 movie, then surely a consideration should be given to their ability to control and respect a high powered, potentially lethal vehicle? One suggestion made in the EU survey mentioned above is introducing a lower legal blood alcohol level for novice drivers. This could be one of the ways forward to ensuring our youth, our future, aren’t taken from us needlessly. Also more education and clearer labelling on alcoholic beverages is needed. This along with the work done by wonderful organizations such as MADD will all help to reduce young deaths on our roads but much more work is needed. The statistics stated above regarding the amount of young people we lose every day are simply horrifying and the severity of the situation is something that every household in America is aware of, and something every single one of us is working to improve.
MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) is a leading organisation in the U.S. that is working to stop drink driving, support the victims of violent crime and prevent underage drinking. They offer support to the victims and families of DUI accidents. Click for more information.

This startling video shows a teenage drunk driving crash as it happens.  Very graphic.  As my kids head off to prom this weekend I will make them watch this.  We all love our children more than life education on drunk driving  is one way to protect them.




AmyApril 9, 2014 at 9:34 am

These stats are SO sad! Thanks for giving us the international perspective. It’s often missing in these analyses.


AmyApril 9, 2014 at 9:34 am

I honestly think that public transportation would solve a lot of these problems. Give people options to get home that aren’t expensive taxis!!


AmyApril 9, 2014 at 9:34 am

I think increasing the driving age would be a good start. We need to start somewhere — this is such a huge issue, it’s not ok to just let it continue.


AmyApril 9, 2014 at 9:34 am

Ughhh these numbers are not making me excited to be living in the US. Kids need to be taught responsibility from a young age. But the problem isn’t just teens. Adults drive under the influence as well:(


AmyApril 9, 2014 at 9:34 am

So glad that the number of fatalities are down! Do you think that that’s more a cause of later driving ages for teens, or a decrease in teen alcohol consumption?


AmyApril 9, 2014 at 9:34 am

200%?! That’s unbelievable! It almost makes me not want to drive anymore.
I’m not really the best with statistics, but how is that even possible? 200% would meant that everyone would be in an alcohol related accident at least once in their lives. I’m not dead yet, but I’d think with those odds most people would be, right?


AmyApril 9, 2014 at 9:34 am

Cars, and the number of deaths like these that come out of them, are one of the primary reasons I wonder why anyone would ever take an issue with guns. Of course, one should never handle firearms while intoxicated either, but the number of deaths from guns is tiny compared to the number of vehicle deaths! How are people not trying to outlaw cars altogether?


AmyApril 9, 2014 at 9:34 am

I can imagine cars being the leading killer of young adults. What else could it be?


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