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Local Driving Laws Stiff on Teens

The Hub addresses the risks that Connecticut's teens face on the road.

With new, stiffer in place for 2012, and new rules for newly minted drivers in effect, The Hub thought it was time to take a look at what are considered most the most dangerous days, and nights, to drive for teenagers.

The December 2011 report was conducted by the Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions Teen Driving study. It included some more obvious answers: New Year's and Fourth of July. However, the report also revealed some surprises: Prom Night came in nearly last. And there was also a “he said, she said” view on the dangers of mixing alcohol and drugs with driving: Females tend to be more assertive when it comes to asking drivers to put down the keys if they’ve been drinking. 

Liberty Mutual surveyed 2,300 teens in 11th and 12th grade.

The report didn’t address one important fact – all those surveyed were underage and not legally allowed to drink in the first place. But that’s for a different column.

Of those teens surveyed, 49 percent said they believe New Year’s Eve was the most dangerous time to be on the road. Yet, ten percent of those same teens said they’d driven under the influence of alcohol or drugs on New Year’s Eve.

So what then about other so-called party nights such as the Super Bowl, the Fourth of July and graduation?

Well, the Fourth of July follows New Years Eve as the holiday most teens consider as a road hazard, according to the report. Of those surveyed, 29 percent think it's a bad night to be on the road, and 8 percent of them drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Homecoming was near the bottom of the list with 11 percent of surveyed teens saying it was not a good time to be on the road. Still, 8 percent of those surveyed said they’d driven under the influence.

By now teen drivers, and adult drivers, know Connecticut stiffened the penalties for drunk driving. And the Department of Motor Vehicles is working to get the word out, including installing billboards (that look vaguely militaristic) saying Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over.

The state also operates under the Implied Consent Law. That means the law considers any person operating a motor vehicle as having given his or her consent to a test to determine blood alcohol concentration (BAC), or, at the very least to recite the alphabet backwards from the letter N. 

Effective Jan. 1, drivers with a first time drunk driving offense must install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle for one year. Drivers can’t start the car until they blow into the device, which works similar to a Breathalyzer. In addition, those with a first time DUI offense are subjected to a 45-day license suspension.

Anyone convicted for a second DUI offense will have to install the interlock device for three years and they will have their license suspended for 45 days.

Clearly this law doesn’t address a person using someone else’s car, or starting the car and literally driving while drinking alcohol or using drugs. But it’s a start and shows the state is getting more serious about cracking down on DUIs.

In Connecticut a driver is considered legally drunk if their BAC is .08 or higher. Those under 21 years of age, the age of those surveyed in the report, are considered legally intoxicated at a .02 BAC or higher, according to the DMV’s website.

The Liberty Mutual/SADD report also showed something else; peer pressure works in a positive way. Most teen drivers said they wouldn’t drink and drive, or get high and drive, if a passenger asked them not too. Eighty-seven percent of teen passengers said they are more comfortable asking a peer to stop driving after drinking, compared with 72 percent who said they would be okay asking a peer to not drive after using marijuana.

The survey also showed that female passengers would confront drinking and driving more readily than boys for both alcohol and marijuana. In the survey 90 percent of the females said they’d ask for no drinking compared with 83 percent for marijuana. And 78 percent of boys would ask about drinking while 65 percent about pot.

Aside from making some interesting reading and perhaps dinner conversation, what does this report mean?

Well, the good news is, teens are paying attention to the messages that it’s unsafe to drive while under the influence. The bad news is, teens – and adults – still have a ways to go to practice what they know: alcohol and drugs don’t belong behind the wheel.

About this column: Metro-North, Merritt Parkway, I-95 and all other things transportation in the area.

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