Prom season is upon us. For many American kids, there are prom night expectations that started when they were very young, thanks to movies and TV shows that depict the ubiquitous event as a magical evening and a rite of passage for high school soon-to-be graduates.
Nearly every high school in the U.S. hosts some type of prom, whether it’s in the school gymnasium with paper streamers and a DJ or an upscale venue like a hotel ballroom with a live band playing. Millions of high school students will attend a prom this year, spending money on formalwear, tickets, before- and after-prom parties and meals, and some will hire a party bus or limo for the occasion.
The prom can also be the kickoff event to a whole season of partying—graduation, summer pool parties, backyard gatherings and tearful goodbyes as friends part ways to head off for bright futures.
While the prom should be an event that you remember for a lifetime, it should be remembered for the right reasons—having fun with friends, reminiscing about old times and dancing the night away.
What you don’t want is to remember the prom as the night you killed a friend because you were driving drunk.
Teen drinking statistics
No one should be drinking at the prom.
That’s because the drinking age is 21 in every state across the country. Still, plenty of teens are under the impression that they need to drink to have fun, and where there’s a will, there’s a way.
So, against the advice of parents and school officials, teens are getting drunk before, during or after the prom or other events. And too often, they are also driving.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that in 2019, about a quarter of teens surveyed reported that they had consumed at least 1 alcoholic drink. In that same year, about 7 million people between the ages of 12 and 20 reported that they drank more than “just a few sips” of alcohol in a given month. (source)
In fact, that survey also reported that 4.2 million teens admitted to having engaged in binge drinking at least once in the month prior to the survey. Of those who admitted to binge drinking, 825,000 said they had engaged in binge drinking on 5 or more occasions during that month.
Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings the person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent. For a younger person, that would be about 3 drinks for a female and 3 to 5 drinks for the average male, depending on age, size and other factors.
The CDC says that a driver who is 16 to 20 years old is 17 times more likely to die in a crash if they have a BAC of .08 percent than if they haven’t been drinking.
An even more sobering statistic from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is that 1 in 3 alcohol-related teen fatalities occurs during prom season, which is April to June.
A survey conducted by AAA found that 31 percent of teens said that it’s likely that they or their friends would use drugs or consume alcohol during prom and graduation season. Further, 87 percent of teens believe their friends are more likely to drink and drive than call their parents or another responsible adult for a safe ride home.
Consequences of drinking and driving
There are 3 major effects of drinking and driving:
- Legal consequences (criminal penalties for a DWI)
- Financial repercussions
- Human toll
Certainly, the human toll is the most frightening and devastating. Most people—teens included—are aware that any time they drink and drive, they run the risk of taking their own life or the life of someone else. Somehow, though, it seems that people who decide to drive drunk don’t believe that it can happen to them... but of course, it could.
The legal consequences differ by state. Most states have a zero-tolerance law for drunk drivers who are underage. If you’re caught driving drunk, the courts will look at factors like whether you’ve had any previous convictions, your BAC and other circumstances around the incident in setting forth penalties.
Penalties can include loss of or a restricted license, fines and fees, substance abuse treatment program, IID (ignition interlock devices) or jail time.
Regardless of the actual penalty assessed by the court, there is a surprising amount of “hidden” fees associated with a DWI. The average estimated cost of a DWI can be about $12,205.
Preventing prom night tragedies
There are few things more tragic than a devastating accident, especially when it accompanies an event like the prom or graduation that’s supposed to be a memorable and fun milestone for students and their families.
Here are some tips for keeping prom or graduation safe and happy for your family and community:
Seek alternate transportation
Most parents don’t condone underage drinking, but many also believe it’s inevitable and that they can’t prevent their children from engaging in alcohol consumption on prom night. So, if your kids are going to drink (and even if you don’t know they are, they could—and they could end up drinking even if they didn’t plan to ahead of time), provide them with transportation that doesn’t involve a teen driver.
This might mean hiring a party bus (yes, these are pricey, but if split among a large group of kids, it could be more cost-effective), other chartered transportation, or even a trusted adult willing to drive them back and forth with no judgment.
Strive for open communication
If you’re a parent of teens, you know how this goes... the 1-word answers, non-committal grunts, secretive texting... teens have been that way since the beginning of time (not the texting part, but the rest of it).
However, communication can save your child’s life. Try to get a sense of their plans for prom night (or any other time they’re heading out with friends), who is driving and whether they have a designated driver who has committed to not drinking any alcohol at all for that time.
You can also make your kids a promise—that if they need a safe ride home, they can always call you, and you’ll come to get them with no judgment, no punishment and no questions asked. Let them know that YOU are their safety and that you would rather pick them up from any situation, at any time of the day or night, than to have them drive drunk or be a passenger of someone who is driving drunk.
Reinforce general safe driving habits
On prom night or anytime, it’s important that teens know that safe driving means wearing seat belts, limiting distractions, following road rules and driving at a safe speed. You can model these good habits and continue to reinforce them at home.
Know where your teen is going and who will be there
You might feel that your child is too connected to their phone, but it benefits you as the parent, too. You can text your child periodically to “check in,” which may help them feel some accountability for their whereabouts.
Remind your teen never to drink from an open container
There are lots of reasons why your teen should never drink from an open container or accept a drink from someone they don’t know well. If they consume something without knowing exactly what it is, it raises the risk that they might drive or make judgments under the influence without even realizing it.
What if my teen is in an accident?
Hopefully, your teen comes through okay without any lasting trauma or injuries. However, if your child is injured—on prom night or otherwise—there is help available.
A compassionate, qualified, experienced personal injury lawyer can help you receive compensation for costs related to your teen’s injuries, property damage to your vehicle and other expenses related to an accident. They can work with the insurance company to ensure a fair settlement. If your child was at fault for the accident, your lawyer can work to minimize their liability so you don’t incur more expenses than necessary.
You can find a personal injury lawyer who’s ready to handle your case in the Enjuris law firm directory.