Misperceptions: drunk driving during Nashville's prom season

It is prom season and many Nashville high school students are preparing for one of the most special nights of the school year. Many parents may be concerned about the risk of drunk driving car accidents after prom but a recent study found that efforts to curb drunk driving have been effective.

The study, conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) indicates that only 6 percent of high school students say that they drive drunk on prom night. Teen driving and driving is now more common during summer and New Years' Eve than during prom.

Despite the single-digit rates of teen drunk driving during prom, up to 90 percent of teens think that their peers were driving while drunk according to a 2009 SADD study. This misperception is part of the problem which promotes teen drinking according to SADD Chairman Stephen Wallace.

"The problem is when you poll teenagers about the behavior of their peers, they tend to wildly over report," Wallace said. "They will consistently tell you 95 percent of their peer group is drinking, when only 63 percent of middle school or high school students say they've used alcohol."

Wallace also says that if teens think that most of their peers are drinking, they are more likely to start drinking as well. Parents should educate their teens on the risks and consequences for drunk driving and underage drinking. Parents should also encourage students to pressure their friends into making more responsible decisions, Wallace says.

"Most teen passengers say they wouldn't speak up because they'd be embarrassed," Wallace says. "We need to empower young people to step up and say 'that's not cool.' Their friends will listen to them."

Source: US News & World Report, "Drunk Driving After Prom: Perception vs. Reality," Jason Koebler, 4/21/11

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