A man undergoes a Breathalyzer test to detect alcohol levels in his bloodstream.
SPRINGFIELD — For the fifth consecutive year, Illinois is celebrating National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, which is designed to highlight the risks and consequences associated with driving a car after using alcohol or marijuana.
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. In 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 104 adolescents ages 12-20 in Illinois died of injuries from motor vehicle accidents. According to the Illinois State Police, although teens only represent 10 percent of licensed drivers in the U.S., they are involved in or responsible for 17 percent of all alcohol-related crashes. Impaired driving has long-term, sometimes fatal consequences for adolescent drivers, their families, and community. Possible repercussions of a drunken or drugged driving crash include loss of life, serious brain or physical injuries, legal consequences or jail time, and long-term emotional and mental health issues for the driver and others affected by the crash.
In 2012, 41 percent of high school seniors in the U.S. drank alcohol in the last month. According to the 2012 Illinois Youth Survey, which is funded by the Illinois Department of Human Services, this percentage was even higher in Illinois with 47 percent of seniors reporting illegal alcohol use in the last 30 days. Of the Illinois seniors who engaged in underage drinking in 2012, 1 in 6 reported that they drove under the influence of alcohol on at least one occasion in the past year. Even a small amount of alcohol affects the teenage brain and impairs judgment, increases risky behavior, and slows reaction time and coordination, which affects their ability to drive safely.
According to the 2012 Illinois Youth Survey, 38 percent of high school seniors smoked marijuana in the last year. Of these students, one in five reported driving after using marijuana or another illegal drug at least one time in the past year. Although more teens use alcohol than marijuana, adolescents are more likely to drive after using marijuana because they do not think that marijuana use impairs their ability to drive. As a drug that affects the brain and causes a high after use, marijuana use increases the risk for an accident because this behavior slows coordination and decision-making, which negatively affects a teen’s ability to react to obstacles and be fully in control.
In Illinois, the State Police and Department of Transportation have stepped up measures to prevent impaired driving. The Illinois State Police have increased patrols on holidays and nights when young people are more likely to be drinking. Additionally, zero tolerance laws in Illinois can result in suspended licenses and legal consequences for teens if police find evidence of any alcohol or drug use.
One of the key messages of National Impaired Driving Prevention Month is that this dangerous behavior can be prevented by the action of parents, educators, and all community members. Simple ways to prevent impaired driving in your community include:
• Act as a designated driver for friends or family
• Talk to your children about impaired driving and set curfew/restrictions on night driving
• Call 911 to report suspected instances of impaired driving.
To read the President’s 2014 Proclamation for National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, visit www.whitehouse.gov. For information on impaired driving prevention, refer to Centers for Disease Controls resource guide at www.cdc.gov.