June is a month filled with high school graduations and the start of summer vacation for many students, so today’s release of the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is well timed. It reminds us to set clear guidelines for teens with respect to underage drinking and driver safety.  The survey results indicate progress has been made in health-related behaviors and risky behaviors, but it also highlights there is still more work to be done.

Underage drinking, both lifetime and in the past 30-days among high school students nationwide decreased over the past two decades.   Lifetime consumption, that is having had at least one drink of alcohol on at least one day during their life, decreased 13%, from 82% in 1991 to 71% in 2011. 

While one if five students (21%) report they had consumed alcohol for the first time before age 13, the prevalence of having had at least one drink before age 13 has been steadily declining, down 37% over the past two decades.  Current alcohol consumption among high school students has declined 24%, from 51% in 1991 to 39% in 2011, with current alcohol consumption nationwide decreasing seven percent since the last YRBS survey in 2009 (42%.)

Among students who reported drinking in the past month, 40% report they obtained the alcohol by someone giving it to them.  Overall, high school females were more likely than their male peers to report obtaining the alcohol from someone else (46% and 35%, respectively).  Unfortunately, the prevalence of having someone give them alcohol has not changed significantly since 2007 (42%) or 2009 (42%).

While the decline in underage drinking is good news, too many high school students nationwide are engaging in risky behaviors that are also associated with the leading causes of death among America’s youth- motor vehicle fatalities.  One in four high school students (24%) report they rode in a car or other vehicle with a driver who has been drinking, and 8% report they drove a motor vehicle after drinking alcohol on at least one occasion.  The prevalence of drinking and driving is higher among males (10%) than females (7%).  However, it should be noted that the prevalence of riding with a currently drinking driver and drinking and driving  among high school students has decreased over the past two decades (40% and 51%, respectively) and from 2009 to 2011 dropped 15% (both riding with a driver who had been drinking and drove when drinking).

Nationwide, 8% of high school students report they rarely or never wore a seat belt when riding in a car when someone else is driving.  However, the prevalence of this behavior has significantly decreased -from 26% in 1991 to 8% in 2011, a decrease of 70%.   More alarming, one-third of high school students report texting or e-mailing while driving a motor vehicle, including 58% of high school seniors and 43% of high school juniors. 

Since 1991 The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility has been dedicated to fighting drunk driving and underage drinking.  In its continuing effort to be a leader and on the forefront of this fight, last month The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility launched I Know Everything, a new program developed in partnership with the Virginia Supreme Court, an interactive program that addresses safe driving facts and tips in a compelling video.  The I Know Everything program consists of a video with a voiceover suggesting that teens ‘know everything,’ including not to text and drive, not to drink and drive, and reminds teen drivers that driving is a privilege and their parents can take away their keys.  In addition to a video, the program has a website (www.iknoweverything.com) with information for students and parents, as well as judges and driving instructors.  So while the 2011 YRBS survey highlights the progress that has been made, motor vehicle crashes remain one of the leading causes of death for teens so the data also presents a precautionary tale for adults and serves as a reminder to talk to your sons and daughters about the dangers and consequences of underage drinking as well as address potentially life changing behaviors to curb distractions behind the wheel and encourage safe behaviors whether driving or riding in motor vehicles.