By Larry Copeland
Nearly a quarter of teens - 23% - admit to driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or prescription drugs used illegally at some point, a new survey finds.
What's worse, they don't view themselves as a danger: Almost 20% of those who drink and drive say it improves their driving, a view shared by 34% of those who drive under the influence of marijuana.
Those are among findings of a new survey of 1,708 11th- and 12th-graders by SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and insurer Liberty Mutual.
The survey highlights the vital role of parents in keeping teens safe behind the wheel. It found that teens are more likely to drink around relatively unsupervised events, such as the Fourth of July or during the summer, than during heavily supervised activities like proms or graduations.
Among many parents, "there is a been-there, done-that attitude when it comes to impaired driving," said Stephen Wallace, SADD's senior adviser for policy, research and education. "A lot of parents grew up on the don't-drink-and-drive message. They figure, our kids hear this all the time, because they heard it all the time."
MADD was founded in 1980; SADD in 1981.
Most high schools - 90% - now have policies or programs to combat illegal behavior, and the use of breathalyzers at school events is up 24% since the previous school year.
About twice as many teens report drinking on summer vacation than teens who admit drinking after prom or graduation, the survey found.
Cathy Chase of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety says the percentage of teens who think they can drive safely after drinking or using marijuana "seems high. But unfortunately, it's not surprising because teens think they're invincible and they thing nothing will happen to them. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a friend or someone in their school getting killed before the reality kind of hits them."
Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, about 2,700 people 16-19 were killed and another 282,000 injured in crashes. Alcohol exacerbates the problem. In 2011, 32% of drivers 15-20 killed in crashes had been drinking, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Drivers were less likely to use restraints when drinking: Of the young drivers who had been drinking and were killed, 70% were unrestrained, compared with 49% of young non-drinking drivers killed.
"I think parents are fooling themselves," said Dave Melton, managing director of global road safety for Liberty Mutual. "In some cases, parents are thinking of their own teen years and not realizing that things have changed drastically since then."