December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month, a time when communities across the country conduct campaigns to prevent driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
The 2014 Illinois Youth Survey reports that 31% of 12th graders in suburban Cook County have ridden in a car driven by someone (including themselves) who was high or had been using alcohol or drugs.* Driving while distracted, drunk or under the influence of other drugs is a leading cause of accidents and traffic fatalities for teens. These tips from the Evanston Substance Abuse Coalition (ESAPC) can help stop impaired driving and keep youth safe:
• Talk to youth about getting into a car with someone who has had even one drink or who has been using drugs. Alcohol, marijuana and other drugs can impair driving ability by slowing down reaction times, impairing perception, delaying motor skills, changing judgment and reducing the ability to concentrate. Keep in mind that even some over-the-counter drugs and other medications prescribed by a physician can impair driving ability as well.
• Be a good role model. Adults who have been drinking should not drive. We all know that young people learn by example, so do not send mixed messages. Illinois Youth Survey *data show that 68% of youth in suburban Cook County stated that their parents spoke to them about drinking and driving within the past year. Set good examples by talking often about expectations.
• Join the ESAPC or a subcommittee to address underage drinking, drug use and impaired driving in your community.
• Talk to youth about developing a plan to call for a safe ride home from a party or other event. Stress that a youth should call even if he or she has been drinking or using drugs. Assure that, while you do not support this behavior, safety is your utmost concern. Setting rules about safe riding and driving, especially when alcohol and drugs are involved, will help to make the roads safer for everyone.
• Those who host parties for young people should not allow them to drink alcohol or use drugs. Do not serve alcohol to youth under the age of 21. Check on young guests often to make sure that no one is bringing alcohol or other illegal substances into your home. The legal consequences of allowing underage drinking or drug use in one’s home can be harsh, not only when a minor is in the home but afterwards.
• Help young people plan substance-free events. Encourage them to volunteer for First Night Evanston, an alcohol and drug-free event on New Year’s Eve.
Remember, safe driving is alcohol- and drug-free driving. A person who decides to drive drunk or drugged is putting at risk not only himself or herself but also everyone else in the vehicle, on the road and on the sidewalks. Making healthy decisions during the holiday season will keep everyone safe.
* The Illinois Youth Survey is a self-reported survey administered in school settings and funded by IDHS. The survey is designed to gather information about a variety of health and social indicators, including substance-use patterns and attitudes of Illinois youth.
Karen Finstad is the Coalition Coordinator for the Evanston Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, whose mission is to increase the health of Evanston youth by preventing alcohol, tobacco and other drug use through community-level strategies. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 847-951-0109.