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Teenagers drink and drive less often than adults but are more likely to crash when they do drink and drive (Williams, 2003). Teenagers’ brains are still developing, and teenagers are inexperienced with both driving and drinking. In addition to inexperience, teenagers do not fully understand risks and consequences (Tymula et al., 2012). Consequently, they have a higher crash risks than adult drivers no matter the BAC (Mayhew et al., 1986; Zador et al., 2000). Alcohol-related crashes among teenagers are typically at night, on weekends, and with passengers (Bingham et al., 2009).

Many countermeasures in previous sections of this chapter apply both to adults and teenagers as well. However, some countermeasures to reduce drinking and alcohol-related crashes are directed specifically to those under 21.

Since 1988 minimum-drinking-age laws in all States prohibit youth under 21 from possessing alcohol. Most States also prohibit minors from buying and drinking alcohol. These laws influence all youth impaired-driving strategies. For people 21 and older, drinking is legal, but driving with BACs of .08 g/dL or higher is not. Utah is currently the only State that has an illegal BAC limit law of .05 g/dL effective since the end of 2018. The message for those under 21 is unambiguous: they should not be drinking at all, and they certainly should not be driving after drinking.

Zero-tolerance laws in all States reinforce this message by setting a maximum BAC limit of less than .02 g/dL or less for drivers under 21. This effectively prohibits driving after drinking any amount of alcohol. Presently, zero-tolerance laws are not actively publicized or enforced by many States. In addition, compliance checks of alcohol vendors can reduce the availability of alcohol to those under 21, though again this strategy is not used as widely as it could be. Many other policies and programs reinforce the no-drinking message directed primarily at adults (beer keg registration, social host liability) or take place in schools or youth organizations (Students Against Destructive Decisions chapters, alcohol-free prom and graduation parties). Youth receive limited education and information about alcohol and alcohol-impaired driving in schools and colleges, through licensing agencies, and through media directed to youth.

The minimum-drinking-age laws and the no-drinking message for youth mean that youth impaired-driving activities must work hand-in-hand with activities to control youth drinking. Except for zero-tolerance law enforcement and alcohol vendor compliance checks, many countermeasures discussed next require cooperation between traditional highway safety organizations, law enforcement, motor vehicle departments, and community, health, and educational organizations with social agendas broader than traffic safety.