What’s the definition of a designated driver? Someone who agrees to abstain from drinking alcohol and be responsible for driving others home, right?
Wrong! According to several recent surveys, many teenagers believe that designated driver means the person who has drunk the least amount of alcohol: a new Canadian study found that 20 percent of teens start drinking and then choose a designated driver, and the Center for Disease Control discovered that 30 percent of teenagers pick a driver who has already been drinking (presumably also after everyone has imbibed some alcohol).
This is depressing reading. As a high school teacher, I’ve sat through numerous assemblies presented by kids whose lives have been dramatically changed because they were involved in a drunk driving accident. These presenters plead with their audiences; they are desperate to get the message across that drinking and driving destroys lives. They know it personally, and they usually end up crying on stage. It is painful to watch.
And yet every year, at all six schools where I’ve taught, lives have been lost due to alcohol. One year Sean was racing his dad’s car on a narrow, winding street and probably having fun until the car slammed into a tree, killing Sean and his four drinking buddies. Another year it was a drunken college student driving the wrong way on the freeway near my school who crashed head-on into the car carrying Eric, one of my French 3 students, and his family, and destroyed four lives instantly.
So what does it take to get kids to understand? Consider these facts from the 2008 National Survey on on Drug Use and Health conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
* 50 percent of high school teenagers drink some alcohol
* An estimated 12.4 percent of people aged 12 or older drove under the influence of alcohol at least once in the preceding year. (That’s 30.9 million people)
* 33 percent of high school teens have ridden with a driver who has been drinking alcohol
* Every day, three teenagers die from drinking and driving accidents in the U.S.
Does a drinking age of 21 make sense? Should it be lowered? Would that make a difference? Next time you are around teenagers and the topic of designated drivers comes up, take the time to explain exactly what it means, and why it’s so important.
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