Of all the substances consumed by todays adolescents, alcohol is the most abused and, in many ways the most dangerous. Combined with driving, alcohol can be lethal and often is. Its devastation affects not only the abuser but families, friends, and too often, innocent bystanders as well. Information presented earlier in this report (Chapter 3), reveals that adolescents begin to use alcohol early in their teens. By sixth grade, 17.0% have tried alcohol in some form. The number of drinkers increases rapidly with age, with 71.4% of twelfth graders reporting they have tried alcohol. Of these, almost half (48.4%) have used alcohol within the last month and 51.2% of those who have used alcohol report having five or more servings of alcohol on the same occasion.
The survey administered to twelfth graders contained questions about alcohol and drug impaired driving. Survey results show that 68.0% of all twelfth grade respondents say they posses a drivers license and a number of them have driven under the influence of alcohol. Results also indicate that 30.4% of licensed twelfth graders drove at least once after consuming one to four drinks. A fair number of licensed respondents (15.1%) also report having driven on at least one occasion after having had as many as five or more drinks.
Impaired driving is not restricted to alcohol users. Respondents were asked how often they drove under the influence of marijuana. A fair number of licensed drivers (11.5%) say they did so once or twice, while even more (15.4%) drove under the influence of marijuana on three or more occasions. Fewer (11.6%) twelfth graders indicate they drove while using a drug other than marijuana.,
Impaired drivers put others at risk as well as themselves. Twelfth graders were asked if they were offered rides with drivers who had consumed alcohol (Table 8.1). One quarter of twelfth graders surveyed (25.8%) indicated they chose to accept a ride with an impaired driver once or twice. A little over 15% indicated they accepted a ride with an impaired driver three or more times. Some students reported they chose to refuse a ride when presented with an opportunity to ride with an impaired driver. One quarter (25.8%) of surveyed students said they refused a ride with an impaired driver one or two times. Only 11.2% of surveyed students indicated they refused to ride with an impaired driver three or more times.
Table 8.2 presents the percentage of twelfth graders who are aware of the dangers of driving within one hour of using various drugs, including alcohol and tobacco. Almost one-quarter of surveyed students felt that using tobacco would constitute a driving danger, the lowest percentage reported for any of the substances. Students indicated that cocaine was the most dangerous substance to use before driving, with 90.7% of students indicating it was either "very dangerous" or "dangerous" to use cocaine one hour before driving. For marijuana, 42.9% of students perceived the drug to be "very dangerous" to use before driving. The perception of risk with alcohol consumption increased with the amount consumed. More than 40% thought one drink was "dangerous" or "very dangerous", with 82.0% of students indicating 3 or 4 drinks were "very dangerous" or "dangerous". Almost 90 percent (88.6%) of students thought having 5 or more drinks was dangerous/very dangerous to driving.
Most surveyed twelfth graders (66.0%) knew their blood alcohol would exceed .02 after one drink, but as indicated in Table 8.2 above, only 41.9% of surveyed students thought that driving after consuming one drink was dangerous. However, almost all (90.1%) knew that driving with this amount of alcohol in the blood could cost them their drivers license.
As drivers, most of the twelfth grade respondents indicated they were aware of the importance of wearing seat belts for their safety (Figure 8.1). Almost three fourths (73.4%) of drivers say they always wear seatbelts. As passengers, however, somewhat less use their seatbelts with the same degree of consistency (65.6%). Only a small percent of twelfth grade respondents indicated they never used their seat belt as either a driver (7.7%) or a passenger (4.5%).
Comparison to 1996 Survey Data
When 1996 survey findings are compared to the 1998 data, gains were made in the percent of twelfth graders who refused a ride with an impaired driver three or more times; there was an increase of almost one percentage point from 1996 to 1998. There was also a 1.5 percentage point decrease in the percent of twelfth graders who chose to accept a ride with an impaired driver one or more times.
For the awareness of dangers of using various drugs or alcohol and then driving, twelfth graders reported mixed perceptions about the perceived dangerousness of alcohol. There was an increase of 3.9 percentage points in 1998 in the number of twelfth graders who indicated one drink was "very dangerous" or "dangerous" from 1996 findings. In addition, there was also an increase in the percentage of twelfth graders who indicated 2 drinks before driving was "very dangerous" or "dangerous" (56.2% 1996 vs. 57.8% 1998). For three or more drinks before driving, however, the trend reverses, with fewer twelfth graders indicating multiple drinks before driving was dangerous. Indeed, the percentage of twelfth graders who felt drinking five or more drinks before driving represented a decrease of 4.4 percentage points from 1996 levels. More twelfth graders perceived smoking cigarettes or marijuana before driving to be dangerous in 1998 than in 1996 (although the percentage change for marijuana was minimal, less than half of a percent). For cocaine, however, fewer twelfth graders (a decrease of 3.9 percentage points from 1996) perceived using this drug one hour before driving as being "very dangerous" or "dangerous" in 1998.
For seatbelt use, the percentage of twelfth graders who always wear their seatbelts, either while driving or riding in a car as a passenger, increased from 1996 levels. For drivers, the increase between 1996 and 1998 was small (1.6 percentage points); for twelfth graders who indicated they always wore seat belts when they were a passenger, the increase from 1996 represented 6.5 percentage points.