Prom and Graduation Season Mean Temptation for Teens to Drink and Drive

Auto accident attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm report that, with the coming of spring, so does the season of celebration for high schoolers throughout the United States. Fortunately, the percentage of teens drinking and driving has decreased by half since 1991, although tragedies continue to occur.

Despite the decrease in teen drunk driving, car crashes are still the number one cause of death in American teens, and one third of those crashes involve drunk drivers. In response, high schools are engaging in activism campaigns to curtail potential catastrophes. One high school in Tennessee, for example, is renting three Greyhound buses to transport their juniors and seniors to the prom about 30 miles away. No student will be allowed to drive to or from the event.

The prom coordinator from this school stated that the efforts are, at the very least, cutting off a few hours when potential devastating crashes could occur. But that doesn’t mean parents won’t wait up for their kids at night. One mother, Phaedra Marriot-Olsen, is now paralyzed as a result of an accident she was in during her early 20s. That night, a drunk driver hit the car she was in with several of her friends head-on. She did not have one drop of alcohol of drugs in her system.

She was permanently paralyzed from the waist down, and now shares her story across Tennessee with Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s (MADD) Power of Parents and Power of Youth programs. Several months a year, she speaks to more than 5,000 students, warning them about the dangers of not only drinking and driving but texting and wearing seat belts as well. During her talks, she usually asks student to raise their hand if they know anyone who has driven drunk. At most schools, nearly every hand in the auditorium goes up, and almost all of them personally know somebody who has been affected by that one person’s bad decision.

Law enforcements throughout the country are increasingly cracking down on distracted drivers, and California is spearheading a zero-tolerance effort. In San Jose this month (April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month), there will be no warnings, only tickets. The city’s police chief said the efforts are aimed at educating the public about the very real dangers of using a cell phone while driving, and ultimately getting them to change their habits. A first offense has a minimum fine of $159, going up to $279.

Marriot-Olsen told USA TODAY that there is so much about ourselves we cannot change: who our parents are, the color of our skin. But how teenagers make decisions is something they can all change for the better. It only takes one bad decision to end a life, or to alter it forever.

And fortunately, to some extent, it seems American teenagers are recognizing this. The CDC cites several reasons for the decrease in teen drinking and driving in the past few decades, such as the decline of alcohol consumption overall, and fewer teens getting licenses. Still, in 2010, one out of five teens involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes had alcohol in their systems.

The agency notes that, compared to sober drivers between 16 and 19 years old, a driver of the same age with a BAC of at least .08 is 32 times more likely to be killed in a single-vehicle crash, such as running into a tree or ditch. Additionally, that driver is 13 times more likely to be in a crash in which the impaired teen driver lives but someone else dies.

Marriot-Olsen now has two daughters of her own, one in college and one a junior in high school. She started talking to them about the dangers of drinking and driving before they even hit their teens. Even now, whenever she hears a story about it, she shares it with them. She says that parents these days have to be smart, proactive, and have constant conversations. Children need to know that it is a priority, and not something to be pushed to the back of their minds.

Auto accident attorneys encourage parents to talk to their kids about these issues, and break bad distracted driving habits themselves to set a better example. If you were seriously injured in an accident caused by a drunken or distracted driver, contact a skilled accident attorney as soon as possible, as you may be entitled to significant compensation.


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