|II. The Facts
This chapter presents information on the prevalence of underage drinking and impaired driving, factors that are associated with these offenses, and their consequences.
Prevalence of Drinking Among Youth
Binge drinkingoften defined for males as having 5 or more drinks in one sitting and for females as having 4 or more drinks in one sitting1 is reportedly widespread among youth. Binge drinking often begins around age 13, tends to increase during adolescence, peaks between the ages of 18 and 22, and then gradually decreases (NIAAA 1997). Binge drinking at least once in the 2 weeks before the survey was reported by 15 percent of 8th graders, 25 percent of 10th graders, and 31 percent of 12th graders in 1997 (University of Michigan 1997) (see figure 2-1).
Prevalence of Drinking and Driving Among Youth
Impaired driving is especially prevalent among college students who binge drink. One survey found that 44 percent of college students reported binge drinking at least once during the 2 weeks before being surveyed, and about 19 percent reported frequent binge drinking (i.e., binge drinking three or more times during the 2 weeks prior to the survey). Drinking and driving during the 30 days before the survey was reported by more than 60 percent of the men and by almost 50 percent of the women who were frequent binge drinkers, compared with 20 percent of the men and 13 percent of the women who were non-binge drinkers (Wechsler et al. 1994).
1 A standard drink is 12 grams of pure alcohol, which is equal to one 12 ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5 ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits.
Alcohol-Related Crash Risk Among Youth
Young drivers' greater crash risk is attributed, in part, to their lack of driving experience, which renders them less able than more experienced drivers to cope with hazardous situations even when they have not been drinking (Mayhew et al. 1986). When young drivers do drink and drive, they are more vulnerable than adults to the effects of alcohol on driving ability. For all drivers, each 0.02 increase in BAC nearly doubles the risk of being involved in a fatal crash. For drivers ages 1620, the risk of a fatal crash increases even more with each 0.02 percent rise in BAC (Mayhew et al. 1986; Zador 1991; NIAAA 1996a). The estimated crash risk for male drivers ages 1620 is at least three times higher than the risk for male drivers age 25 and older at all BAC levels (Zador 1991).
In 1995 law enforcement agencies made nearly 15,000 DUI arrests of persons under age 18. In 66 percent of these arrests, the youth was 17 years old, and in 3 percent the youth was under age 15. Juveniles arrested for DUI were disproportionately male (84 percent) and white (91 percent) (Snyder 1997a).
Under-21 Access to Alcohol
The rate at which juveniles are arrested for liquor law violations is quite low. In 1996, law enforcement agencies made only 518 liquor law violation arrests for every 100,000 persons 10 to 17 years old in the resident population (Snyder, unpublished data, 1998). The youth population will undergo rapid growth in the early part of the next decade (see Figure 2-2). Thus, a focus on preventing youth DUI and other alcohol-related offenses among this group will have an amplifying effect.