Prom Night & Teen Drinking: The Facts

High school prom is a milestone in the life of nearly every American teenager. Unfortunately, prom night drinking typically occurs in tandem with this special event. For many teens, prom may be the first time they ever drink alcohol, or the first time they binge drink and get truly drunk. Prom may also be the first time they are allowed to borrow the family car and drive unchaperoned. Prom night drinking and driving facts tell us that this is a dangerous scenario. Inexperienced teen drivers who binge drink may also combine alcohol with drugs — either intentionally, or by unwittingly drinking spiked punch or combining alcohol with their prescription medications — amplifying any side effects and exponentially raising the inherent risks of drinking and driving.

Prom Night: A Time of Teen Excitement and Parental Concern

While teens feel excited about dressing up and going dancing with their prom dates, most parents feel concerned because they are aware of prom night drinking and driving facts. Here are a few facts about prom night and teen drinking that are cause for concern:

  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 300 teens have died in alcohol-related traffic accidents during prom weekends over the past several years.
  • Statistics show that roughly one-third of alcohol-related teen traffic fatalities occur between April and June — the peak of prom and graduation season.
  • A survey of teens aged 16 to 19, published by AAA in 2014, found that 31% to 41% of teens said it was likely that they or their friends would use drugs or alcohol on prom night.
  • According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens — roughly 25% of teen crashes involve an underage drinking driver. Every year, 1,415 people under age 21 die from alcohol-related crashes.
  • Even a small amount of alcohol can affect driving ability — 1,764 people were killed in 2014 in alcohol-related crashes where the driver’s blood-alcohol level (BAC) was less than 0.08.
  • NHTSA estimates that every day, 28 people in the U.S. die in an alcohol-related vehicle crash — that’s one person every 53 minutes. While drunk driving fatalities have fallen by about 33% in the last 30 years, the chance of being in an alcohol-impaired crash is still one in three over the course of a lifetime.
  • Drivers who mix alcohol and marijuana greatly increase their chance of an accident, because marijuana and alcohol together have “multiplicative effects” on impairment.
  • More than 85% of teens say they or their peers are likely to drive impaired instead of calling their parents for help because they are afraid of getting in trouble. Just 21% of teens have called their parents to pick them up because they or their driver was impaired.
  • SADD reports that during the past 30 days, 26.4% of teens (ages 12-20) used alcohol, and 17.4% engaged in binge drinking.

Tips for Parents: Talk to Your Teen About Prom Night Drinking Hazards

A primary concern parents have about prom night is that their teen will drive drunk (or drugged) and get into an accident, but statistics show that talking to teens about the issue and working with them to take safety measures makes a big difference. In fact, it is thought that proactive parents contributed to a 53% reduction in driver deaths among 15- to 19-year-olds between 2005 and 2014. Thanks to anti-drunk-driving campaigns by the NHTSA, MADD and others, more parents are aware of drinking and driving facts, and sharing the information with their children. “We know that 94% of all car crashes are caused by human choice or error,” said U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a 2016 DOT news announcement. “Nearly 3,000 teens were involved in deadly vehicle crashes in 2015. We have to do better, and as parents we should all model, teach and enforce good driving habits for our young drivers.” Here are some tips for parents regarding how to talk to their teens in advance of prom night, graduation night and other special occasions where drunk or drugged driving may be a hazard:

  • Open conversations during other activities (like shopping for the prom dress or tux) so it seems more casual and not like a “big talk.”
  • Advise that it is the best choice not to drink alcohol on prom night in order to stay alert to all potential hazards (i.e. alcohol poisoning, date rape, falls), and also to guard against inadvertently drinking something that is spiked with drugs. For example, tell teens to avoid the punch bowl, and not to leave a beverage or bottle unattended when heading out to the dance floor or to the bathroom. Rather than set an unfinished beverage down, just toss it out and get a new one. And look out for friends as well.
  • Mention that others may be binge drinking on prom night — consuming as many as three to five drinks in under two hours — which multiplies the effects of alcohol in a very short time.
  • Alert them that while the prom itself may be alcohol-free, some teens may sneak alcohol into the dance, or there may be drinking at the prom after-party.
  • Ask questions that begin with Why, What and How, such as, “Why might someone your age think they can drive after drinking?” or “What do you think might happen if you get into a car with a driver that has been drinking?” and “How might you handle the situation if you think the driver has been drinking?”
  • Empower teens to step up and speak up to keep themselves and others safe. In surveys, teen drivers say that if their friends spoke up and said, “Don’t speed, don’t talk on the cell phone and don’t drive if you’ve had a drink” they would be less likely to do those things. So tell teens it is OK to tell an impaired friend, “Hey, it’s not cool for you to drive right now.”
  • Let teens know that even if they make a mistake and drink too much, or have a friend who does, you will pick them up anywhere and anytime, without giving them a lecture. Also give them a number to call for a safe ride from a taxi service or show them how to download and use NHTSA’s SaferRide mobile app if drinking gets out of hand.

Make sure teens get the message that it’s best to play it safe and party alcohol-free so that a milestone celebration is remembered for all the right reasons, and not because it ended in tragedy. Sources Prom Season Excites Teens and Worries Parents. Drug Prevention Blog. Narcanon, April 2017. Drunk Driving. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2016. Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Underage Alcohol Use, page 21. SAMHSA, 2014. Safe and Sober Prom Night. MADD, 2016. The Effect of Cannabis Compared with Alcohol on Driving. RA Sewell, et al. American Journal of Addiction, May 2009. The AAA PROMise. 23 Prom Night Statistics Every Parent Should Read. Rebecca Lake. Credit Donkey, May 2016. Underage Drinking Facts and Statistics. Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), 2016. Parents—Talk With Your High School Grads About Celebrating Safely. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIH, October 2016.

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