The combination of drinking and driving is especially lethal in teens. Drivers under 21 are more likely to die in alcohol-related crashes than older drivers. The perilous combination of inexperience, impulsiveness, bad judgment and a feeling of invincibility greatly increase risks to teenagers on the road.
Parents need to be aware of these dangers and make a genuine effort to persuade their kids to make the right decisions. Here are some guidelines that will help.
Make the Rules Clear. It’s not enough to express disapproval when teens drink, or even to punish your teenager. You need to set down the rules clearly at the outset – meaning before they get their driver’s licence. Write it down and have your teen sign it, corny as that sounds. The rules are:
- Never drink and drive
- Never ride with someone who has been drinking
- Never allow a friend who is drinking to drive
Make Sure They Know the Law. Provinces give even less leeway to teens in terms of drinking and driving. All Graduated Licensing Programs in Canada mandate a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.0% – absolutely no alcohol – so any teen who drinks and drives will lose his or her license. There are also other serious consequences, such as very stiff fines and serious uninsured liabilities in case of accident.
Set an Example. The rules won’t make an impression on your teenager if you drink and drive. So it’s important that you be a role model here. It might not be enough to change his or her behaviour, but it’s the foundation for everything else you do.
Provide a Way to Get Home Anytime. If your teen calls and is drunk, now is not the time for a lecture. Get them home, either by picking them up, arranging a ride, or calling a taxi. Your teen needs to know he or she can call when a lifeline is needed.
Help Teens Deal with Peer Pressure. This is vital. Many teens will admit to being shamed into drinking. Peer pressure is a strong and constant force in the lives of young people. They might be ashamed to ask for a ride home when friends are present. So make an agreement that you will always pick up your teen if they have been drinking and can’t drive, no questions asked. Come up with a secret code – a texted or spoken phrase – which means “I need a ride, so please pick me up,” so they can let you know in secret. This doesn’t mean you’re approving of drinking. But it does signal that you put their safety first. And how you react the first time it happens will set the pattern for what they do the next time.
Keep Lines of Communication Open. Talk to your teen about their problems, about impaired driving, and about drinking in general. You’ll never succeed by force of will alone. But if your teen knows you’re being honest with them, there’s a better chance they’ll respect your boundaries.