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Drunk driving does not affect only those who are of legal drinking age. Many youths decide to drink before they turn 21, and some of them choose to get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated.
Drunk driving is dangerous for everyone, especially for teenagers. Drivers under 21 years of age have limited experience operating a motor vehicle and, in general, are more likely to make irresponsible decisions when it comes to consuming alcohol and driving.
Everyday, at least nine teenagers die due to alcohol-related causes. Of those nine, three teenagers who chose to drink and then drive are killed. In 2003, 6,002 individuals between the ages of 16 and 20 were killed in automobile accidents. Of those fatalities, 38% were alcohol-related.
A survey of college students conducted in 2001 revealed that 26% of underage drinkers have driven while intoxicated. Of the surveyed students, 10% said they had driven even after consuming five alcoholic beverages. Almost a quarter of respondents said they had knowingly ridden with a driver who was drunk or high within 30 days of the survey.
In 2000, drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 made up 7% of the total number of licensed drivers. Drivers in the same age group, however, accounted for 13% of drunk driving fatalities in the same year.
Many young people do not realize or understand the effects that alcohol has on the brain and body and how its consumption will affect their ability to drive a car. Due to the large fatality rates associated with underage drinking and driving, many states have adopted strict laws that are intended to discourage underage drinkers from getting behind the wheel of a car.
Recent studies have shown that states in which “zero tolerance” laws have been implemented have seen a decrease in the likelihood of binge drinking behavior (more than 5 drinks per sitting) among male youths aged 18 – 20 by 13%.
Since 1984, when setting a drinking age of 21 became federal law, it is estimated that 1,000 lives have been saved every year. However, as a result of negligence and/or loopholes in laws in certain jurisdictions, it is still relatively easy for people under the age of 21 to acquire and drink alcohol to the point of intoxication. The unfortunate facts are that underage drunk driving will remain a problematic cause of unnecessary fatalities for as long as alcohol is made accessible to underage persons.