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Impaired driving remains an issue that affects Americans every day.

In Missoula County, MOST young people don’t drink and drive -- approximately 3.5% of 10th graders have ever driven a vehicle after drinking. By 12th grade, however, by students’ own report, that number almost triples to 9%. That’s approximately 1 in 10 students, or three students in a typical classroom setting, that puts not only their own lives at risk but those around them as well.

When it comes to RIDING in a car in which someone else has been drinking (which may include adult drivers), the numbers increase dramatically, as approximately 17.5% -- or almost one of every five -- 10th and 12th grade students report riding in a car with someone who has been drinking.[1]

It’s important to talk to our kids about the dangers of substance use and driving. It’s also important to create clear expectations and make our own positive choices as role models. Kids pay attention to what we say, but they pay even more attention to what we actually DO.

SAMSHA, the Substance Abuse, and Mental Health Services Administration, created the following tips to help adults talk with your kids about drunk and drug-impaired driving:

Impaired driving remains an issue that affects Americans every day. On average, three in five people will be involved in a crash due to impaired driving in their lifetime. Impaired driving can have serious consequences, including injury and death.

Impaired driving is entirely preventable. Know the facts, and talk with your kids about the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

  • About one in fourteen car crashes involves an underage drinking driver.

  • Every day, about 800 people are injured in a drunk-driving crash.

  • Every day in America, another 29 people die as a result of drunk-driving crashes. That’s one person every 50 minutes.

  • Marijuana use is increasing, and 13 percent of weekend nighttime drivers have marijuana in their system.

  • Marijuana users were about 25 percent more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers with no evidence of marijuana use.

Keeping Your Kids Safe

The most effective way to stop impaired driving is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Use the following tips when talking with your kids about drunk and drug-impaired driving.

Don’t Wait for the “Right” Time—It’s always a good time to talk to your kids about the dangers of impaired driving. Here are some common situations you can take advantage of to discuss drunk and drug-impaired driving:

  • When your child asks to borrow the car;

  • When you’re at the dinner table together;

  • When your child asks if he or she can ride with a friend to school/a concert/a party;

  • When you’re running weekend errands;

  • When you’re at the grocery store; and

  • When you and your child are in the car together.

Reinforce Expectations—Ensure your children know what you expect from them when it comes to impaired driving. Let them know it’s never okay to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while under the influence and that getting in a car with someone who has been drinking or using drugs is also dangerous.

Help Them Build an Exit Plan—Some kids may not know what to do if a friend or family member who is under the influence of alcohol or other drugs offers them a ride. Explain to your child that it’s okay to say no, and help them think through an exit strategy. For example, you can suggest:

  • Calling a rideshare service or taxi;

  • Calling a relative or friend for a ride home;

  • Staying the night at their current location; and

  • Convincing the person under the influence not to drive. Mention that drunk and drug-impaired driving is illegal and unsafe and suggest they find another way home.

Show Them You Care—Kids are more likely to listen when they know you’re on their side. Make sure they know that you’re talking to them about impaired driving because you care about their safety, not because you assume they would ever drive drunk or drug-impaired.

Shared from SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration); updated April 2020.

About the Author

Shannan Sproul is a Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist with Western Montana Mental Health Center. Visit their website at

[1] 2018 Montana Prevention Needs Assessment

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