Teens, Alcohol, and Driving

The teenage years are difficult for most young people, when they’re not quite an adult but no longer a child. These are the years when humans grow up. While this is the time when youth gain new responsibilities, this is also the time when youth are given new privileges. And one of those privileges is the right to drive a motor vehicle. Even this privilege can be a mixed blessing, though. While teenagers are allowed to drive, their reputation precedes them: the image of the teen driver with the Student Driver placard on the roof, driving erratically down the street. This reputation isn’t simply based on stereotypes — it is reflected in accident statistics and economics. It is no secret that motor-vehicle insurance is more expensive for younger drivers.

An Earned Reputation

The reasons for some of these stereotypes are well-earned. Statistics show that teen drivers are, in fact, much more likely to crash than older drivers. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the main cause of accidental death among teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 is motor-vehicle crashes. In 2014 alone, there were 2,270 teen fatalities in automobile accidents, and more than 221,313 teenagers visited emergency rooms because of collisions.


As practice can never replace the real thing, perhaps the biggest contributor to teen accidents is inexperience. This shows itself statistically in the most common accident types teenagers are generally involved in, and also in the causes for those accidents. The website Teendriversource, funded and published by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, has investigated and reported many of their findings. The institute reports that more than 75 percent of accidents by teens are caused by what they consider to be critical errors: Lack of scanning, going too fast for road conditions, and being distracted.
  • Lack of scanning: Despite being on most driving tests and second nature to individuals who have driven for several years, a lack of scanning is essentially a direct result of a lack of experience. Drivers who have been on the road for several years are aware that an essential part of driving is paying attention to other drivers: as they know, cars can come from anywhere, not just from the expected direction. For example, if pulling out of a store and turning right, common sense suggest that other cars will only approach from the left. However, if a driver only looks left, they may miss the car pulling out next to them; the pedestrian on the street, or the bicycle crossing the road.
  • Going too fast for road conditions: Despite updated safety standards and new technology, automobiles have their limitations. And while most experienced drivers may cautiously test their vehicle’s limitations, teenagers tend to go full throttle. Unfortunately, that means often overshooting limitations, and not having the proper training to realize limitations caused by ice, rain, fog and other hazards.
  • Distracted Driving: Distracted driving is essentially operating a motor vehicle while distracted by something other than the road. Most often with teenagers, this has a tendency to be smart phones or passengers. Distracted driving is dangerous for any age group, but is most prevalent and most common with teenagers.

DUI’s and Teen Drivers

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2015, 10,265 people died in vehicle accidents involving alcohol. Broken down, that amounts to 28 people a day – or one death every 53 minutes. And the costs weren’t simply in lives – the total impact of the crashes are estimated at $52 billion a year. Most shockingly, the NHTSA reports there is a 1/3 chance of being involved in an alcohol-related crash over the course of a lifetime.

Kentucky’s DUI Rates

Kentucky is far from immune. According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 2,041 people were killed between 2003 and 2012 in accidents involving alcohol, and 1.5 percent of adults reported driving after having too much to drink. In 2015, The Kentucky Department of Transportation (KYDOT) reported 162 fatal alcohol-related collisions, 1,418 injury collisions, 175 killed and 2,072 injured.

Alcohol and Teen Driving

The statistics for teen driving indicate teens are far more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than adults. The CDC states that in 2015, more than 2,333 teens in the United States died as the result of motor vehicle accidents, and 221,313 were treated in emergency rooms for injuries. In total, an average of six teens a day died because of accidents. KYDOT reports that in 2014 there were 23,679 crashes, with 7,118 injuries and 97 fatalities involving drivers under 21-years-old. Of the fatal crashes, 35 percent involved alcohol. In Kentucky, there is a zero-tolerance policy, meaning teens may have absolutely no alcohol in their system when driving. The CDC states that the numbers of teen drunk drivers have gone down 54 percent since 1991, but one in 10 teens in high school still drink and drive, and a teen is 17 times more likely to die in a crash when they have a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or more.


The CDC suggests some measures are effective for eliminating teen driving after consumption of alcohol, including:
  • Minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) laws in every state make it illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under age 21. Research has shown that enforcement of MLDA laws using alcohol retailer compliance checks has reduced retail sales of alcohol to those under the legal drinking age.
  • Zero tolerance laws in every state make it illegal for those under age 21 to drive after drinking any alcohol. Research has demonstrated that these laws have reduced drinking and driving crashes involving teens.
  • Graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems help new drivers get more experience under less risky conditions. As teens move through stages, they gain privileges, such as driving at night or driving with passengers. Every state has GDL, but the specific rules vary. Research indicates that GDL systems prevent crashes and save lives.
  • Parental involvement, with a focus on monitoring and restricting what new drivers are allowed to do, helps keep new drivers safe as they learn to drive. Parents can consider creating and signing a parent-teen driving agreement with their teens. Research has shown that when parents establish and enforce the “rules of the road,” new drivers report lower rates of risky driving, traffic violations, and crashes.
Billy Johnson and The Johnson Law Firm in Pikeville, Ky., are proud to bring their experience and resources to aggressively pursue your legal needs. For questions or to set up a consultation, contact The Johnson Law Firm online or call 1.877.712.3620

Attorney Billy Johnson

William “Billy” Johnson grew up in the Dorton area of Pike County, Kentucky, and early on decided to stay in the beautiful Appalachian mountains. Like many others in Eastern Kentucky, Billy’s dad worked as a coal miner, a hard job but one that taught his son how to meet challenges head on and persevere. Attorney Billy Johnson has years of experience helping injured clients with claims such as car, truck, and motorcycle accidents, wrongful deaths, work injuries, and more. [ Attorney Bio ]

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