As New Year's Eve 2013 approaches, many of us are looking forward to spending time with friends and family. The beginning of a new year invites us all to join in the festivities, have a party and celebrate. Unfortunately, each year lives are lost, and holidays become somber due to impaired driving. According to the CDC, nationally, one person dies every 48 minutes as the result of an alcohol-impaired driver.
Though we have made progress in the fight to reduce drunk driving, Iowa has seen an increase in the loss of life due to drivers who use either illicit and/or prescription drugs behind the wheel. Whether using alcohol or drugs, the user's reaction time, motor skills, judgment and memory are impaired and the person's ability to drive safely and responsibly is greatly impacted. Add to this the increased use of cell phones and texting behind the wheel and even more lives are at risk.
Unfortunately, even those who cannot legally drink sometimes make dangerous choices, convincing themselves that they are indeed "grown up." Among youth in Iowa, the current rate of alcohol use is similar to the national rate. However, last year 13.6 percent of Iowa high school students, age 16 or older, reported driving after consuming alcohol, a rate significantly higher than the national average. Marijuana and prescription drug use is also on the rise among Iowa's youth.
Parents can help by talking with their teenagers and letting them know they can provide a safe ride home, being involved, setting rules, and above all, being good role models. With the New Year's weekend upon us, parent responsibility is paramount since alcohol is easily available. Seventy-four percent of kids between the ages of 8 and 17 say parents are the leading influence in their decisions about alcohol.
Because of the high risk of underage drinking and driving during the holidays, some parents open their homes to partying teens as a way to keep them off the roads. What some may not know is that liability laws can leave mom and dad vulnerable to lawsuits and fines if underage drinking is found to be going on under their roof. Parents can get into trouble even if they don't know about the drinking.
One way parents can model the best behavior and make traditional family gatherings safe is to not serve alcohol to anyone. Instead, serve attractive, appetizing non-alcoholic beverages, mock cocktails or tropical drinks. If you do choose to serve alcohol, make sure those under age 21 do not have access to the alcohol and avoid making it the main focus of the social event and serve plenty of snacks. Stop serving alcoholic drinks at least one hour before the end of your event.
Have a party! Celebrate the New Year! Have fun! But remember, impaired driving and its consequences can seriously alter or even destroy lives and property in an instant. Thank you and I wish each of you the best of health in 2013.