What Are Some Teen Drunk Driving Statistics?

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One of the leading causes of death among teenagers is drunk driving.

These tragedies are completely preventable, and through aggressive educational campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving, the good news is that the number of teenagers who drink and drive has significantly decreased in the past thirty years.

A teenage driver holding her head as a police officer leans through her driver-side window talking to her.

Facts about teenage drunk driving

Teenagers know that they should not drink alcohol and that they should not drive if they do drink alcohol.

Unfortunately, teenagers’ brains are still in a developmental stage and are not fully reliable for making the best decisions in every circumstance. Their immature brains are also vulnerable to the effects of alcohol in an exaggerated way when compared to an adult’s brain.


Adults commonly experience short-term effects after consuming alcohol, such as slurring their words and feeling fatigued. The brain of a teenager responds differently to alcohol than an adult’s brain.

Teenagers are more likely to believe that they are safe to drive after drinking alcohol because they do not notice the effects of the alcohol on their bodies as quickly. This false sense of invulnerability leads more intoxicated teenagers to drive and endanger everyone, including themselves.

Impaired Judgment

Teenagers are more prone to making poor decisions simply because their brains have not fully developed yet. This lack of decision-making skills is amplified while under the influence of alcohol.

Even if teenagers notice their symptoms of impairment, they may still choose to drive. Alcohol affects the drinker’s judgment and decision-making skills, and these effects are greater in teenagers than in adults.

These impaired decisions include choosing to enter a vehicle as a passenger of a drunk driver. Peer pressure also plays a part in teenagers’ decisions to act in ways that they normally would not if they had a clear mind.

Lack of Impulse Control

Teenagers are impulsive by nature, again because of their level of brain development. Their lack of impulsive control deepens in severity with the influence of alcohol.

Teenagers are less likely to react quickly to their surroundings due to the suppression of their brains’ hormonal responses to stress that alcohol induces. This suppression is also why they often make quick decisions that do not make logical sense to a sober person.

Loss of Coordination

Alcohol has a direct effect on the cerebellum of the brain. The cerebellum is the section of the brain that is responsible for balance and muscle coordination.

Alcohol disrupts the cerebellum’s control of the body’s motor functions. This disruption also increases the time it takes the driver to react, which is extremely dangerous while driving.

Blacking Out

A blackout occurs when the individual is still conscious but they later have no memory of the events they took part in or of their actions during that time. Blackouts are different from passing out, in which the individual loses consciousness and does not move.

A driver who blacks out will not remember driving drunk, whether they were involved in an accident, or the details surrounding such an event.

Fear of Consequences From Parents

Most teenagers live with their parents and often drive their parent’s car to social events with their friends, where they are exposed to alcohol.

Perhaps they did not plan on drinking, but whatever the case, they are likely to feel anxious about admitting their guilt of drinking alcohol to their parents. They may choose to drive in an attempt to return the car home to hide the fact that they took part in illegal activity.

What Percentage of Accidents Are Caused by Underage Drunk Driving?

Approximately one-quarter of fatal crashes for teenagers involve an underage drunk driver. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2021, 27% of young drivers aged 15 to 20 years old who were killed in car crashes had a blood alcohol content of 0.01 g/dL or higher.

Teenagers consume alcohol and operate motor vehicles approximately 2.4 million times every month in the United States. 40% of all fatal drunk driving accidents involve an underage driver.

Over 350 teenagers are killed every year as passengers in underage drunk driving accidents, and 56% of those teenagers were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the collision. 30% of teenagers admit that they were a passenger of an underage, drunk driver, and 10% of teenagers admit to driving after consuming alcohol.

Consequences For Underage Drunk Driving

It is illegal for anyone under 21 years of age to consume alcohol in North Carolina. If you are hit by an underage drunk driver, you can expect that driver to have to face serious consequences of both criminal charges and administrative penalties.

Administrative Penalties

The North Carolina Department of Transportation is responsible for imposing administrative penalties on driving while intoxicated offenders.

Underage drunk drivers have their driver’s licenses revoked at the time of their arrest as a civil suspension and again when they are convicted as a criminal suspension.

The immediate license revocation is for 30 days. If convicted, the offender will lose their driver’s license for one year.

Just like with adults, underage drivers are subject to North Carolina’s Implied Consent Law. This law states that since driving is a privilege, everyone who chooses to drive on North Carolina’s public roads is therefore consenting to take a breath test for alcohol if asked to do so by an officer of the law.

A police officer will choose to administer the test on anyone they suspect is driving while intoxicated. The driver has the right to refuse the test but will be penalized by having driving privileges revoked for a year.

The revocation stays in effect even if the driver is not convicted of drunk driving in court. Underage drivers are not allowed to have any alcohol in their system while driving, so even the smell of alcohol on their breath is enough for a conviction of a DWI.

Criminal Penalties

A driver under 21 years old can potentially face charges of driving while intoxicated, as well as underage driving while intoxicated. The charges of each will not be combined, but the offender will have to face the higher maximum penalties of the two.

In North Carolina, underage DWI is a class two misdemeanor that carries a maximum fine of $1000 and up to 60 days in jail. The judge has the discretion of whether to send the offender to jail or put them on probation and have them perform community service or attend an alcohol treatment facility.

The offender also has to undergo a drug and alcohol assessment, as well as any recommended treatment.

If the underage drunk driver already has a DWI on their record, their punishment can be either community, intermediate, or active for up to 45 days at the discretion of the court.

Intermediate punishment would be probation, as well as electronic house arrest, and having to stay in a residential program, special probation, participation in a day reporting center, or drug treatment court.

Jail time is considered an active punishment. If the driver is given less than 90 days, it will be served in a county jail; anything more than 90 days will be served in a state prison.

Call the Heavy Hitters to Make Sure You Get the Compensation You Deserve

Whether the drunk driver was an adult or underage, you still deserve compensation for all damages you have incurred. At Tatum and Atkinson: The Heavy Hitters, you can expect our attorneys to treat your case like any other, seriously and without holding back.

Call us at (800) LAW-0804 for a free consultation today to see how we can handle your drunk driving accident case.

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