Drinking and Driving: Research Shows Why Drunk Teens Get Behind the Wheel

First Posted: Mar 17, 2014 08:27 PM EDT

Perhaps influence plays more than one role in drunk driving. A recent study revealed that teens who get in the car with intoxicated drivers are more likely to get behind the wheel another time when they're under the influence.

Researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland found that 10th graders were 21 times more likely to drive drunk by their senior year if they had been passengers in a car with somebody who was driving while intoxicated.

The results and findings of the study will be published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers collected information from 2,500 high school students from 10th to 12th grade over a three-year period and asked the teens how often in the past year that they rode in a vehicle operated by an intoxicated driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Nearly one-third of the tenth graders responded that they had, but it wasn't clear whether the driver was a peer, parent, or other person.

The teens were also asked how often in the past month they drove while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which was used in relation to whether or not if they were a passenger while an intoxicated driver was operating a vehicle. The research found that teens who had been a passenger in a car with an intoxicated driver for their first three years of high school were 127 times more likely to drive under the influence by their senior year.

"Basically, it's about as risky for teenagers to drive while intoxicated as it is for them to ride with an intoxicated driver," Bruce Simons-Morton of the NICHH told

This is an alarming statistic because of the already high numbers of teen deaths from car crashes. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) compiles drunk driving studies on their website to help create more awareness on the devastating subject. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2012 that the leading cause of death for teens was car crashes in which 25% involved an underage driver who was under the influence of alcohol.

Simons-Morton and his researchers will see their study published in April and they hope it will grab the attention of parents across the country.

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