While other studies have found ties between riding
with impaired drivers and teen impaired driving risk, the new study
surveyed about 2,500 U.S. students each year between 10th and 12th
grades to examine rates over time — not at just one point.
"We were interested in both driving while intoxicated and riding
with an intoxicated driver, because it's the combined of the two
behaviors that reflects the true risk," Bruce Simons-Morton, one of
the researchers, told Reuters Health.
"When you do that, you see a relatively high proportion — about 30
percent in our study — reported either driving while intoxicated or
riding with an intoxicated driver within the last three years," he
Overall, between 12 percent and 14 percent of students each year
reported impaired driving in the past month and 23 percent to 38
percent reported riding in cars with drunk or drugged drivers within
the past year, the researchers wrote in Pediatrics.
Students were more likely to drive impaired if they had been in cars
with impaired drivers after adjusting the numbers for the students'
genders and drinking and drug habits, family income, and parental
education and supervision.
Specifically, kids who reported riding with drunk or drugged drivers
during one of the surveys were 10 times more likely to drive drunk
or drugged than a kid who never reported riding in cars with
That risk grew to 34 times greater when they reported riding in cars
with impaired drivers on two surveys and 127 times greater if they
reported riding in cars with drunk or drugged drivers on all three
"The magnitude of the association kind of gets one's attention,"
Simons-Morton is from the Health Behavior Branch of the National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which is part of
the National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland.
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He and his colleagues note that they can't distinguish exposure
to only drunk or drugged driving in their results, however. They
also can't say whether the impaired drivers the students reported
riding with were other young people or adults.
But they say that early exposure to impaired driving may come
across as "normal" behavior to teens, who may be particularly
"When you ride with an intoxicated driver, it sort of normalizes the
idea of drinking and driving," Simons-Morton said. "Also, you're
around peopling who drink and drive."
He added that current policies to discourage drunk and drugged
driving among teens are acceptable, but parents and peers need to be
"The primary issue is not driving or riding with an intoxicated
driver," Simons-Morton said. "You want to plant the important
message in your teens' heads."
Pediatrics, online March 17, 2014.
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