Dreading the day your kid is old enough to get behind the wheel is completely rational, a new study confirms, especially since that means his or her peers will be old enough to drive, too. Researchers found that 48 percent of juniors and seniors in high school in Canada report riding in a car with a driver under the influence of alcohol or marijuana.
“The most shocking thing for me was the sheer number of teens in Canada who are engaging in these risky behaviors,” Leia Minaker, co-author of the study, told Fatherly. “Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death among 16 to 25-year-old Canadians, and alcohol or drug impairment factors into over half of fatal collisions in this age group.”
For the study, Minaker and her team looked at data collected from 24,650 Canadian high schoolers between 2014 and 2015. Participants reported whether they had ever taken the wheel after drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, and whether they had ever been passengers in vehicles operated by friends who were under the influence.
Forty-eight percent of the teens reported either driving under the influence or accepting a ride from somebody who had recently smoked or drank. Specifically, 35 percent had ridden with drivers who had at least one drink and 20 percent rode in cars with drivers who had smoked marijuana, while 9.4 percent and 9.1 had driven after smoking or drinking, respectively. Since this was a nationally representative sample, the authors extrapolated that roughly 70,000 Canadians teens may be driving under the influence, and that more than 300,000 may be in danger of risky driving.
The fathers of daughters, in particular, can add these statistics to the growing lists of things to worry about. “While boys had higher odds than girls of engaging in risky driving behaviors, girls had higher odds than boys of riding with a driver who had been drinking,” Minaker says. And the risk to high school students is real—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2,333 teens in the U.S. ages 16 to 19 were killed in 2015 from motor vehicle crashes alone, most of them due to drunk or impaired driving. Clearly, this is not just a Canadian problem.
Minaker recommends parents prioritize important conversations about assessing and avoiding such risks.“I would rather my kids be more afraid of getting into a car with an impaired driver than of getting in trouble with mom or dad for being at a party with underage drinking,” said Minaker, who is also a mother of three. “We’ll definitely aim to keep open lines of communication and create strategies for getting out of scary situations.”