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What's the problem with underage drinking and driving?

If you're under 21, you can be convicted of DUI if you are caught driving with a blood alcohol level of .02% or higher. It's a low bar, but the consequences can be just as serious as they are for an adult driver.

Underage drinking is a serious problem in the United States. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, around 29.8% of teens engaged in underage drinking in 2017. Also, 2.5% of underage drinkers reported suffering from an alcohol use disorder.

We know that underage drinking can have severe societal consequences. For example, research has shown that underage use of alcohol can affect adolescent brain development, increase the drinker's risk of sexual assault victimization, and increase the drinker's risk of being involved in a fatal traffic accident.

How many teens drink and drive? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 5.5% of American teens report having driven after drinking alcohol, which is the standard in most states.

Still, many teens may wonder if it's actually unsafe to drive after having a small amount of alcohol. After all, it's not as if they would actually be drunk, right? Aren't the rules for underage drinking and driving a bit strict?

If we're trying to reduce the consequences of drunk driving, they may not be. There is a strong correlation between teen drinking and driving and the overall number of drunk-driving fatalities reported.

For example, Utah has the lowest per capita drunk-driving fatality rates in the nation at 1.7 fatalities per 100,000 people annually. In Utah, only 2.8% of high school students report driving after consuming alcohol.

Meanwhile, Arkansas has the highest drunk-driving fatality rate in the U.S. at 4.8 deaths per 100,000 people per year. In Arkansas, 10.7% of high school students report driving after drinking.

Underage drinking is declining

The good news is that the rate of underage drinking among American high school students has gradually but steadily been declining since about 1995, when over 50% of high school students admitted drinking. At the same time, the percentage of high school students who said they have ridden with a drunk driver has also dropped off from almost 40% to approximately 15%.

That's good news, but we still have a ways to go. Drunk driving is responsible for almost 30% of all traffic fatalities in the U.S.

Teens should not drink, and they certainly shouldn't drive after having done so. However, if you are arrested for underage DUI, you shouldn't let shame or embarrassment keep you from getting the legal help you need.

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