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Parents, be vigilant regarding teen drinking
Teen abuse of alcohol and driving accidents, by Kurt Gregory Erickson.

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THINKSTOCK.COM
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Date published: 6/23/2013

VIENNA

--In a recent story about a tragic accident, The Free Lance-Star accurately captured the dangers of teen driving during unstructured time when it reported that summer months are the deadliest months of the year for teen drivers. A major factor contributing to traffic accidents involving 15- to 20-year-old drivers is teen drinking.

While nearly twice as many U.S. teens die in traffic crashes during the summer months compared to the rest of the year, nearly a third of this country's teen drivers killed in crashes had been drinking. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures, more than 1 out of 4 of these young drivers died with a blood alcohol concentration at or above the legal limit (.08) in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia.

With figures released just this month by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, locally and throughout the commonwealth nearly nine teens on average were injured in drunken-driving crashes every single weekend last year.

Recognizing that summer's arrival also ushers in the period (May-August) when the greatest number of U.S. teen traffic deaths occur, parents of teenage drivers must recognize that they play an integral role in when and if their children drink alcohol; inasmuch, these same parents are empowered to foster a healthy and safe summer for themselves and their teenage children.

Young people who drink alcohol participate in other risky behaviors, including driving while impaired, riding in a car with a drunken driver, and impaired judgment regarding sex and contraception. They are at increased risk for HIV infection, other sexually transmitted diseases, and unplanned pregnancies.

Parents should have open, caring, thoughtful, ongoing conversations about alcohol with their teen children, and implement clear family expectations by setting a no-alcohol rule and supporting this environment with zero-tolerance consequences if such rules are broken. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, teens who think their parents approve of their unlawful drinking are more likely to drink and get drunk than teens who believe their parents oppose their drinking.

Above all, parents must realize that at some point their teen will be offered alcohol. Parents' pregame plan should be to instill self-confidence in their teen by talking with them about peer pressure. As the National Institutes of Health points out, "Teens say they prefer quick 'one-liners' that allow them to dodge a drink without making a big scene."

While motor vehicle crashes continue to be this country's leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds, it need not be fostered or exacerbated by already unlawful alcohol use by this same underage population.

Kurt Gregory Erickson is president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program.