Why and how to talk to kids about drinking and driving

Why and how to talk to kids about drinking and driving

This weekend, ChicagoNow blogger Erin Massey was hit head on by a drunk driver on one of Chicago’s freeways and was seriously injured in the crash. Since learning of that this weekend, I’ve seen a lot of items about teen drinking, as well as drinking and driving.

ChicagoNow bloggers have been posting about their experiences with drunk drivers, and it is sobering how many of them have been impacted, and how that impact resonates, as this post illustrates.

Then I saw on Facebook that mother shared this photo of her young daughter on a ventilator after drinking with a cousin and have a blood alcohol level of 0.43. Thankfully, her daughter will be okay but doctors say she could have died. The mom shared the photo to “[h]elp raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol poisoning and teenage binge drinking. I never thought I could find us in a situation like this. Neither did [my daughter]. Maybe we should have.”

The next day, I read Galit Breen’s great post about talking to her tween about alcohol, and I appreciated the commenter who said that, no matter the stance parents take about being okay with their kids experimenting or not, they absolutely need to stress that kids should never, ever drink and drive. I think if you are talking about drinking with your kids, the corollary conversation is about drinking and driving.

This is a hugely important topic, with the capacity to dramatically impact a lot of people I shouldn’t be surprised, given some of the facts.

Statistics about drinking and driving from Mothers Against Drunk Driving:

* The rate of drunk driving is highest among 21 to 25-year-olds.

* Every day in America, another 28 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes.

* Every two minutes, a person is injured in a drunk driving crash.

* Teen alcohol use kills 4,700 people each year – that’s more than all illegal drugs combined.

Those stats are all pretty startling.

So what can parents do about it?

1. Talk to kids about drinking and driving.

Yes, they seem young, but that doesn’t mean you won’t make an impact.

MADD promotes the Power of Parents and says “Keep your children safe from drinking and driving: Start talking!” because “three-quarters of kids up to the age of 17 say parents influence their drinking decisions.”

If kids hear that drinking and driving is unacceptable for a very long time and hear it from you first, you will frame how they view it. I firmly believe that kids hear our voices in their heads, especially when they’ve heard you repeating information and stressing its importance.

2. Let them know that they should always, always call you for a ride if they have any concerns about their driver’s impairment.

Make sure you child knows they can rely on you to get them home safely, no questions asked.

3. Model safe behavior for your kids. 

I used to think that if I had one drink, it was okay for me to drive. I no longer do that. I have adopted a policy of not driving at all if I’ve had a drink. I discuss this with my tween. I worried that she wouldn’t know how many drinks I had had, and that it seemed like a safe, bright-line rule for all of us to follow. This may not work for everyone, but it is one that works for us. I just checked with her to see if she remembers my policy and she knew it. I asked what she thought about it and she said, “It’s smart.” When I asked why, she said “because you’re saving your life and mine.” I added that it keeps others safe as well.

I’m hoping that means I’ve gotten through to her but that certainly doesn’t mean that I’m done. It’s an ongoing conversation, one that I’m sure will evolve as friends start drinking, as she gets closer to getting her license, as she grows up.As I’m typing, she added, “Knowing that you don’t drink and drive at all makes me feel safe.”

Now is the time to talk with your kids about drinking and driving. Even if your kid is 11. Even if it is a random Thursday night with no specific reason. That may be the best time of all, really. Explain that you want to talk them before there’s a reason.

Resources for Parents and Kids:

* Check out Dr. Michele Borba’s 7 ways to stop teens from drinking and driving, for real from Today.com by

* Print out and sign the Contract for Life from Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD).

* TheCoolSpot.gov is a website aimed at middle schoolers by the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

* Use MADD’s conversation starters and driving smart tips

* Safe South Dakota – you don’t have to live there to use the great tips and resources compiled for parents

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Filed under: Parenting, Safety

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