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Press Briefing Transcript

Vital Signs: Drinking and Driving Among High School Students Aged > 16 Years — United States, 1991–2011

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at Noon ET

OPERATOR: Welcome and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants are on a listen-only mode. Today's conference is being recorded. Tom Skinner, you may begin, sir.

TOM SKINNER: Thank you, Shirley. Thank you, everyone, for joining us for another release of a Vital Signs from the CDC. This one on "Drinking and Driving among High School Students Aged 16 years and older, United States, 1991 to 2011."With us today is the director of the CDC, Dr. Thomas Frieden who will provide some opening remarks and then we'll move to your questions. Also with us to help answer questions if necessary is Dr. Ruth Shults.  That’s spelled s-h-u-l-t-s. She's an epidemiologist in CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. So we'll turn it over to Dr. Frieden and then move to your questions. Dr. Frieden?

THOMAS FRIEDEN: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. The topic today is about teen drinking and driving. Motorcycle crashes remain the leading cause of death for teenagers in this country. There are more than 2,000 teens aged 16 to 19 killed on the road each year. And many of those deaths are alcohol related. Today I’m going to discuss the findings from a new CDC Vital Signs study on drinking and driving among high school teens in the U.S. and also what can be done to prevent teens from get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol.

There's really good news in some of the data here. Teen drinking and driving has dropped by more than half in the past 15 to 20 years. Because of that, nine out of ten high school teens are not drinking and driving as of our most recent data in 2011. But it's really important that we keep up the momentum. Almost a million high school teens age 16 and over drove after drinking alcohol in 2011. And we calculate that high school teens were responsible for about 2.4 million episodes of drinking and driving a month. Drinking and driving is very risky for any driver but especially for young teens. In fact, young drivers age 16 to 20 are 17 times more likely to die in a crash when they have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 than when they've not been drinking.  And, of course, even without alcohol, teen drivers are at a much higher risk of having a serious or fatal accident than adult drivers. Teens who drink and drive are also more likely to binge drink which is defined in this survey as having five or more drinks of alcohol in a short period of time. In fact, 85 percent of teens in high school who report drinking and driving in the past month also say that they binge drank or had five or more drinks in one setting.

One in five teen drivers who was involved in a fatal crash had alcohol in their system in 2010. But we know what we can do to keep teens safe and others safe on the roads. There are a few things that make a really big difference. One is minimum legal drinking age laws which are present in every state and make the minimum legal drinking age 21. A second are zero tolerance laws. Our teenagers can have no alcohol in their system when they're driving. Any alcohol at all is a violation of the law for teens. Third, graduated drivers licensing systems which help new drivers get more experience under less risky conditions. Every state in the country has a graduated driver license system but rules differ from state to state. The spread and enforcement of graduated driver’s license laws is a real success story for the past decade. We've seen teen driving fatalities fall by nearly 40 percent in less than five years because of graduated driver's license laws as well as other interventions. And we calculate that if every state had a strong graduated driver's license policy, we would see further reductions in the number of teens age 16, 17 who are getting into serious or fatal accidents.

But more needs to be done to protect young drivers. Everyone shares the road with them and, therefore, everyone has a risk of making sure that risks are as low as possible. States and communities can enforce existing policies such as those that I've mentioned. Pediatricians and other health care professionals can screen teens for risky behaviors, educate teens and parents, educate parents of new teen drivers about the need to enforce rules of the road including possibly using parent-teen driving agreements. And reminding parents to lead by example as safe drivers starting even before their child is old enough to drive because children see how their parents drive from a young age and model that behavior. Parents are a key part of the equation here. Parents can understand that most teens who drink unfortunately both drink and drink to get drunk. Parents can recognize the dangers of teen drinking and driving and that teen drivers are at much higher risk of crashing after drinking alcohol. Parents can provide teens with a safe way to get home such as picking them up or arranging for a safe ride or a cab if their teen driver has been drinking.

Parents can model safe drinking -- excuse me. Parents can model safe driving behavior and complete a parent-teen driving agreement and enforce rules of the road such as never drinking and driving, following state laws, wearing a seat belt on every trip, limiting night time driving, limiting the number of teen passengers, never using a cell phone or texting while driving, and following speed limits. The percentage of high school teens who drink and drive is substantially less now than it was 15 to 20 years ago. We've seen really good progress. A decline of more than half. But still, one in every ten high school teens engages in behaviors of drinking and driving together in a way that endangers their own life, the life of their passengers in their car and the lives of others around them on the road. We're moving in the right direction but we need to keep up the momentum. As a parent of a teen, I know that almost nothing could be worse than having your child die tragically and preventively. And teen driving and drinking is a major risk factor. The leading cause of death for teens in our society is road vehicle crashes and reducing teen drinking and driving is something we can do to reduce those even further. So thank you all very much for joining me. We can now have questions.

TOM SKINNER: Shirley, we're ready for questions, please.

OPERATOR: Thank you. We're ready to begin the question and answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press star one.  Unmute your line and record your name clearly. To withdraw your request, you can press star 2. Again, press star 1 to ask a question and one moment for our first question. Thank you.  Our first question comes from Kathleen Doheny, with WebMD. You may ask your question.

KATHLEEN DOHENY: Yes, thank you. The parent-teen driving agreement, what kinds of things should be in there?

THOMAS FRIEDEN: There are certain key components of a teen-parent agreement including never drinking and driving, following state graduated driver's license laws, wearing seat belts, limiting the number of passengers, obeying speed limits and importantly contacting the parent if there's a problem and having a way to get a safe way home if the teen or the driver who the teen is with has been drinking. There is a CDC model parent-teen driving agreement at "Parents are the Key."

KATHLEEN DOHENY: Great, thank you.

TOM SKINNER: Next question, Shirley.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from Caitlin McGlade with Congressional Quarterly, "The Heath Beat." You may ask your question.

CAITLIN MCGLADE: Hi. Yes, my question is about how the survey was conducted. I understand that it was -- it sort of accumulated a lot of evidence from surveys that were taken voluntarily by teens. So were there any, I guess, marginal errors taking into account of whether or not teens are just more likely to not admit to drinking and driving now?

THOMAS FRIEDEN: This is Dr. Frieden. I'll start that and then Dr. Shults will comment further. There are two sources of information for the study that we're releasing to day. One is what’s called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). And that's done in schools. It is self-reported data. But because teens might over or underestimate some risky behaviors, we can only say what the self-report is. The second source is from fatal crashes where actually alcohol in the blood is measured of teens who tragically died on the road. Dr. Shults?

RUTH SHULTS: Yes. And you're correct that we list out the national YRBS survey from 1991 to 2011 to report the national information. And then we looked at 2011 national data and also state data from 41 states to look at the percentage of high school students age 16 and over who report drinking and driving by these 41 states.

TOM SKINNER: Next question, Shirley.

OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question comes from Alexandra Sifferlin with You may ask your question.

ALEXANDRA SIFFERLIN: Hi. Thank you very much. I’m wondering how these numbers compare to adults and what are the relative rates of drunk driving deaths in teens versus adults?

THOMAS FRIEDEN: Teens who drink are much more likely to get into a crash than adults who drink. Of course, no one should drink and drive above the legal limit. Dr. Shults?

RUTH SHULTS: Overall in the United States, we see that one-third of all traffic fatalities are alcohol related. Excuse me. In teens, ages 16 to 19, in 2010, about 20 percent of those teens had some alcohol in their blood at the time of the fatal crash. So really around 20 percent for teens, 16 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes and somewhat higher for the general population, around 33 percent.

THOMAS FRIEDEN: Just for context, it's important to recall that every state in the U.S. has a zero tolerance law which means that anyone under the age of 21, for people over the age of 21 in the U.S., the illegal limit is .08. But for people under the age of 21, any alcohol at all is illegal. And is a serious violation of the driving laws and we've seen that teens are highly susceptible to riskier drinking, riskier driving if they've been drinking at all.

TOM SKINNER: Next question, Shirley.

OPERATOR: If you have a question, press star 1. The next question comes from Norleena Gullett, ABC news. You may ask your question.

NORLEENA GULLETT: Hi, yeah. We were wondering if someone could maybe attest to some of the differences by state.

THOMAS FRIEDEN: Sure. So we looked at 41 states and tabled two of the MMWR has that. And we have a couple of maps which show some regional trends. There are a few states for which we don't have data either because the response rate was too low or the question wasn't asked or they do a different type of survey. And then we've seen some states that have higher than average rates of drinking that tend to be both in the south and in the upper Midwest. And then some states that have lower than average teen drinking which is more kind of in the center of the country. So we've got some maps that show some fairly substantial differences among states. And the table in the study indicates which of those differences are statistically significant for the 41 states for which we have data. So you could kind of --

NORLEENA GULLETT: I saw that. I think any hypothesis as to why some of the differences as far as such as teen education or…?

THOMAS FRIEDEN: Some it is the policies that are in place. We know that policies that affect adult drinking also affect teen drinking.


THOMAS FRIEDEN: So particularly for the upper Midwest, those are generally the states that have highest adult drinking rates as well. Dr. Shults?

RUTH SHULTS: That's really correct. There's not much to add to that. The one thing that I might add is that we saw about a threefold difference in the percentage of high school students who reported drinking and driving with the low of almost 5 percent in Utah to a high of almost 15 percent in North Dakota.

NORLEENA GULLETT: Yes, I saw that.  Okay. Thank you.

TOM SKINNER: Next question, Shirley.

OPERATOR: Next question comes from Kristian Foden-Vencil with Oregon Public Broadcasting. You may ask your question.

KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL: Hi. Talked a lot about kind of what can be done to keep the percentage dropping. But I’m not quite sure I quite understand why this has happened. What happened over the last 20 years that made these numbers drop?

THOMAS FRIEDEN: So a few things have been consistent trends. One is that every state in the country now has a zero tolerance law. So if a teen has any alcohol in his system while driving, that's against the law. That was not the case 20 years ago. Second is the legal drinking age is now 21 in every state in the country. And that was not always the case. The third are the over the past decade the spread of graduated driver's license laws which have been very effective at reducing risky driving, including drinking and driving. Those are probably the three major trends here. I think there's also a broader recognition that drinking and driving is not okay. A generation ago it wasn't unusual to hear one for the road in terms of a drink. And, in fact, there's a very interesting history of that -- of the movement to reduce drunk driving that's been published by that title, one for the road. But now there is really a social understanding of how dangerous drinking and driving is and how unacceptable it is because it endangers not just the driver and passengers but the whole community. And there's now a sense that friends don't let friends drink and drive. And so if you think about the broader social change of -- from one for the road to friends don't let friends drink and drive, that's a major change in our society. I think that's one of the things that's really driving the progress here and one of the reasons why nine out of ten teens don't drink and drive.

KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL: Can you give us the history of the one for the road? What is the story? What is that about?

THOMAS FRIEDEN: It gives the history of a couple of groups, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and R.I.D., Reducing Intoxicated Driving that were very effective in advocating for laws against drunk driving at the state level and federal level. And it outlines the history that in a popular culture for many years intoxicated driving was seen as almost funny and acceptable. And not seen as the terribly risky and irresponsible behavior that it is.


OPERATOR: Thank you. Next question comes from Caitlin McGlade with Congressional Quarterly, "The Health Beat."You may ask your question.

CAITLIN MCGLADE: Just another question here. How much since the rates are lower than they were 20 years ago and now it seems like the buzz is all about teens texting and driving. How much is texting and driving replacing teen drinking and driving if it is at all or how much is it having an impact on whether or not that is the new up and coming big threat or is drinking and driving still the biggest threat?

THOMAS FRIEDEN: We know that both of them are big threats. Fortunately, we're still seeing declines in motor vehicle crashes. But the increase in texting is a major potential risk and something we need to continue to address. Dr. Shults?

RUTH SHULTS: That's correct. We have a number of surveys that indicate that teens do text and drive. Most states are now passing laws that prohibit texting and in most cases also cell phone use among these newly licensed drivers. And these are new laws. So we're waiting to see the effectiveness information on those laws.

CAITLIN MCGLADE: Can you give me an example of a state that is doing something about limiting cell phone use for inexperienced drivers?

THOMAS FRIEDEN: We can get back to you with the specifics.

RUTH SHULTS: Yeah. The primary thing that is being done is passing legislation. And we'll get back to you with information about more local program.

TOM SKINNER: If you call our press office 639-3286 area code 404, we'll make sure we get that information to you. Shirley, next question?

OPERATOR: If you would like to ask a question, press star 1. One moment please for our next question. And at this time I’m showing no further questions.

THOMAS FRIEDEN: Okay. So let me just wrap up and add an answer to one of the earlier questions that we know from the YRBS data that over time teens are both drinking less and driving less. And furthermore, that the combination of those things is down by even more than any one of the two. Teen drinking and driving remains a serious problem. Road crashes are the leading cause of death in teens in this country and alcohol is a contributing cause to many of the crashes and deaths. Nine out of ten kids are not drinking and driving. But that leaves nearly a million kids, 2.4 million episodes per month of drinking and driving with the vast majority of those being kids who binge drink when they do drink. We have effective ways to reduce drinking and driving including graduated driver's licenses and parental involvement. And we need to keep up the momentum so we can make further progress, reducing teen crashes, teen injuries and teen deaths. Thank you all very much for your interest.

TOM SKINNER: Thank you, Shirley. Thank you all for joining us. Again, if there are any follow up questions or reporters needing additional information, please call the CDC press office at 404-639-3286. Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. And this does conclude today's conference. We thank you for your participation. At this time you may disconnect your lines.



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