New Year's Eve: Prime Time for Teens Driving Drunk

John Egan

Nearly half of American high school juniors and seniors believe New Year's Eve is the most dangerous time of year to drive. And it's no wonder. New Year's Eve also is the occasion when they most frequently drive after drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

A survey by Liberty Mutual and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) of nearly 2,300 students in 11th and 12th grade found that 10 percent had driven on New Year's Eve after drinking alcohol or taking drugs. That compares with:

• 8 percent on Fourth of July. • 6 percent each on prom night, at homecoming and around high school football games. • 5 percent at school dances and other events. • 4 percent around graduation.

The news is not all bad, though.

At least nine of every 10 teen drivers say they'd stop driving after drinking booze or smoking marijuana if a passenger asked them. Girls were more likely to make that request than boys.

"New Year's Eve is a time to celebrate both the past year and the possibilities of the year to come, yet far too often poor decisions by teens result in tragic injuries and deaths," Stephen Wallace, senior adviser at SADD, says in a news release. "To avoid a fatal start to the New Year, teen passengers need to use their voices if they have concerns about their friends' behaviors. They will be heard."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 31 percent of drivers age 15 to 20 who were killed in car crashes in 2008 had been drinking alcohol.

It's estimated that in the five years after a drunken driving conviction, an offender's car insurance bill can jump by $5,000 to $10,000. With teens already coughing up more money for car insurance that older drivers are because of their inexperience behind the wheel, the price is even steeper when you add a DWI to the mix.

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