Want to Save a Life? Ground Your Teen on Saturday Night.

stronger alcohol laws save teen livesMaybe the big killer of teens isn’t drunk driving, or speed, or drugs. Maybe it’s the weekend.

That’s a vast overstatement, but researchers at Boston Medical Center have looked at how young people die on US roads, and have noted some disturbing facts:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the main cause of death for children and teens.
  • Drunk driving contributes to a quarter of all motor vehicle fatalities for children, teens, and young adults. Nearly half of those crashes occur on weekends.

The purpose of the study, published in the online journal Pediatrics, was not to pinpoint weekends as danger zones, but to examine states’ alcohol policies and see if stronger alcohol laws reduced road deaths. The answer is that they do.

More restrictive alcohol policies seem to save the lives of young people. Some of the policies the study looked at were:

  • Laws restricting the hours and days of alcohol sales
  • Administrative license revocation (ALR) for DUI
  • Dram shop laws (holding alcohol vendors responsible for harm resulting from the alcohol sale)
  • False ID laws
  • House party (social host) liability laws
  • Ignition interlock laws
  • Open container laws
  • Zero-tolerance laws for youth

Laws, then, make a difference. In the past couple of years we’ve seen the legislative landscape change as a number of states got serious about drunk driving and passed laws mandating ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders. More social host laws are also in place. In other areas, trends move the other way: no state has recently put private liquor sales under public administration. And in general, states tend to opt for more liberalization, not less, as regards the hours of liquor sales.

Perhaps this research will help fuel efforts to roll back that liberalization and pass stronger alcohol laws.

And as for Saturdays, the lead study author has suggested that limiting teens’ weekend driving hours would help keep them safer. Sometimes the simple solution is the one that works. This one is worth a try.