Intoxication a Major Teen Road Risk

Nearly 1 in 3 High School Seniors Admit Driving or Riding With Someone Who's Been Drinking or Using Drugs

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 29, 2007 -- In a new survey, almost a third of last year's high school seniors admit driving after drinking heavily or using drugs, or riding with someone who had done so.

That figure is down from 35% in 2001 but hasn't changed much since 2004.

"This behavior is not merely illegal; it is highly dangerous to themselves and others," write the University of Michigan's Patrick O'Malley, PhD, and Lloyd Johnston, PhD.

"Most teens are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, yet many ignore it," Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), says in a news release.

She adds that many teens "don't seem to recognize the dangers of driving after using illicit drugs, including marijuana."

Vehicle accidents are the No. 1 cause of death among youths aged 15 to 20, notes Volkow.

Drinking, Using Drugs, and Driving

More than 2,100 members of the class of 2006 at about 135 high schools nationwide completed surveys about their drinking, drug use, and driving in the past two weeks.

About 18% said they had driven after drinking heavily, using marijuana, or using illicit drugs other than marijuana.

Here are the details:

  • Driving after drinking: 14.2%
  • Driving after using marijuana: 13.1%
  • Driving after heavy drinking (5 or more drinks): 9.5%
  • Driving after using illicit drugs other than marijuana: 3.1%

Riding With Intoxicated Drivers

The students also reported how often they had been a passenger of a driver who had been drinking and/or using drugs in the previous two weeks.

Nearly a quarter of the students -- 24% -- said they had ridden with someone who had been drinking heavily and/or using marijuana or other illicit drugs.

Here are the full results for students who reported driving or riding after the driver has used:

  • Any alcohol: 26.1%
  • Marijuana: 23.2%
  • Heavy drinking: 15.8%
  • Illicit drugs other than marijuana: 5.9%


Risky Choices

Those risky behaviors were more commonly reported by men than by women.

African-Americans were less likely than whites to report driving after heavy drinking, and Hispanics were less likely than whites to report driving after using drugs.

But white, African-American, and Hispanic students were equally likely to report riding with an intoxicated driver.

"Students with high religiosity, good grades, low truancy, infrequent evenings out for fun, or a low number of hours of paid work were less likely to put themselves at risk," write the researchers.

The students only reported their behavior during the previous two weeks. A yearlong study might have netted more student confessions of intoxication on the road, note the researchers.

Their study, published in November's edition of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, was funded by the NIDA.

SOURCES: O'Malley, P. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, November 2007; vol 68: pp 834-842. News release, National Institute on Drug Abuse.

© 2007 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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