The Juvenile DUI Problem

2 teenagers dead as speeding
car flips on Route 7
Driver loses control less than two miles from
Thursday’s fatal crash; alcohol is an apparent cause.

Does this headline sound familiar? Have you seen similar tragedies in your own community?

Of course you have. Throughout your law enforcement career, you have seen these headlines, been there at the scene, and had to make those calls to a teenager’s parents, telling them their child was killed or injured in a terrible crash. If only teens and parents could see what you have seen, those headlines wouldn’t be so common. Right?

Obviously, the solution to juvenile DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs) is not that simple. But you are the chief, and the community holds you and your department responsible. Is that fair? Fair or not, it’s true. You have a choice: do what you can to prevent the problem, or risk having the community perceive that you are at least partly responsible for it. Surely the first option, which saves lives and shows law enforcement at its best, is the one to aim for. How will you address the problem of juvenile DUI? Will your department be active or inactive? Helping you, the police executive, answer those questions is the purpose of this publication.

The information presented here was derived from the collective experience of police departments in five juvenile DUI enforcement demonstration sites:

  • Albany County, New York (in cooperation with the New York State Police)
  • Astoria, Oregon
  • Hampton, Virginia
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma

But is this really a major problem in my town?

First, the broad facts:

  • One-third of all deaths of people 15-20 years of age are caused by motor vehicle crashes, and more than 35 percent of those fatalities are alcohol related. In 1997, that meant 2,218 youths died in alcohol-related crashes. (Note: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines as “alcohol related” any crash in which either the driver or a non-occupant, such as a pedestrian or bicyclist, had a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.01 percent or higher.)
Leading Causes of Death (Ages 15-20)
Rank Cause Percent of
Number of
1 Motor Vehicle Crashes 33% 6,232
2 Homicide 22% 4,159
3 Suicide 13% 2,395
4 Other Injury
(falls, drowning, etc.)
9% 1,608
5 Cancer 5% 867
6 Heart Disease 3% 511
Source: National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Vital Statistics Mortality Data, 1995, Multiple Causes of Death (MCOD) File, NCHS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • There were 14 young drinking drivers involved in fatal crashes for every 100,000 young licensed drivers in 1995—twice the rate for drivers aged 21 and older.
  • The 1995 National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) “Monitoring the Future” survey found that nearly one-fourth of youths 16-20 years old have been in a car with a driver they felt had consumed too much alcohol.

Crash Fatality Rate: Adult vs. Youth
Numbers Killed Per 100,000 Population

Chart refers to all crashes, not just those that are alcohol related.

  • The 1997 “Monitoring the Future” survey found that high school senior binge drinking is increasing.

Rode with Driver Who May Have Consumed Too Much Alcohol

In the past 12 months, did you ever ride in a motor vehicle with a driver you thought might have consumed too much alcohol to drive safely?

  • The youth population to increase every year for the next 10 years.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that in the year 2000 the youth population will be 23.9 million, an increase of 10 percent from 1995.
  • More youths in the population means more young drivers and passengers, which usually means more total and alcohol-related crashes. Thus, the projected increase in the youth population can be expected to increase the youth DUI problem, even if present enforcement programs are maintained.
  • Youth alcohol consumption is not a victimless crime. In addition to the costs and trauma associated with alcohol-related crashes, alcohol use contributes to increased rates of violent crime. Alcohol is a key factor in up to 68 percent of manslaughters, 62 percent of assaults, 54 percent of murders/attempted murders, 48 percent of robberies, and 44 percent of burglaries.
  • The direct economic impact of alcohol-related crashes is estimated to be $40.1 billion per year.

Characteristics of Youth DUI
  • Place: Youths drink in different locations than adults. Those places (parks, homes, etc.) are usually not covered by DUI patrols.
  • Time: Youths drink and drive in concentrated periods, usually Friday and Saturday, 10 p.m.-1 a.m.
  • Driving Cues: Speeding, aggressive driving, and hard weaving suggest youth DUI.
  • Arrest Processing: For youths, this can be even more difficult than typical DUI, requiring special holding facilities, parental notification, etc.

Take a look at the next page. It contains a quick checklist to see how well your community is doing. If you answer “no” to more than one question, this publication is definitely for you!