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You’re at a party, your ride had a few beers, and you need to get home in time for your curfew. What do you do?

We all know that drinking and driving or riding in the car with someone who drank alcohol is extremely dangerous, but sometimes it can feel like your only option. In fact, more than 25 percent of students who responded to a recent Student Health 101 survey said they’ve gotten in a car with a driver who had been drinking. But students know better.

“Always have a designated driver, and if not, call a car service [such as Uber or Lyft], says Samantha, a junior from Brooklyn, New York. “If all else fails, the most important thing to do is call a parent or guardian. Even if it gets you into trouble, you are better off safe than harmed.”

Have a plan

Figuring out a way to get home safely before you go out is your safest option. “The best thing you can do is develop a plan for situations where you’ll need a ride or help getting home,” says Erin Canty, MA, social worker at Bartlett Junior Senior High School in Webster, Massachusetts. “Although drinking underage is illegal, we all make mistakes. But the biggest mistake of all is putting your life at risk instead of simply asking for help.”

The realities of drinking and driving

There are many risks to drinking and driving, and you probably already know about many of them. Drinking and driving makes you 11 times more likely to crash your car, which can lead to you hurting or even killing yourself or someone else.

But there are other consequences you might hear less about. In many states, drinking and driving can lead to your car being impounded and a fine of several thousand dollars. (That’s a lot of cash). You might be required to serve community service time or have to take a substance abuse or driver’s education class. Some other possible consequences are:

  • Getting arrested
  • Having your license taken away
  • Being required to pay a fine and legal fees
  • Getting in trouble at home

Remember that a driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge may stay with you even after you get your license back. For example, you might have to disclose the conviction on college or job applications, which could prevent you from getting the job or education that you want.

So what can you do about it?

Sometimes plans can go wrong, and trying to get home from a party is no exception. You might plan on driving home or going home with a friend, but sometimes even the designated driver ends up drinking.

With a little effort, there will always be another way to get home. Have a backup plan before going out. If you didn’t organize a ride beforehand, there are plenty of options for spur-of-the-moment rides. The most important thing is to never let yourself or anyone else get behind the wheel after drinking.

Learn how to get home safely when you’re faced with any of these scenarios:

Scenario 1:

I’ve only had a few drinks. I can probably drive home carefully and it will be fine.

You might have heard that if you have only one drink an hour, you won’t get drunk, but this isn’t true for everyone. How your body processes alcohol depends on many factors, and there’s no way of knowing how quickly yours will process it—so it’s better not to risk it. Plus, teen drivers are up to three times more likely to be in a fatal crash than more experienced drivers, and drinking any amount of alcohol increases that risk.

Zero tolerance laws
Every state has a zero tolerance policy for minors. That means that if you get pulled over and have been drinking any amount of alcohol at all—even one drink—you’re likely to get charged with drinking and driving.

Here are some ways you can avoid driving after drinking or getting in the car with someone who has been drinking:

  1. Secure a sober ride. Ask if you can get a ride with a sober friend or anyone at the party who hasn’t been drinking. You can pick up your car the next day.
  2. Use a car service or public transportation. Take a cab, use a car service app such as Uber or Lyft, or take public transportation. Before you go out, make sure you have a way to pay for your ride home. Most places will take a credit or debit card (Uber and Lyft use apps that you can link to a credit or debit card), but try to carry cash, too, in case you need it.
  3. Call home. Call home to find out if you can stay the night where you are instead of going home. Or, if your parent doesn’t want you to stay out, ask them or another family member to pick you up. If they get upset with you, remember how much more upset they would be if you were hurt or got charged with a drinking and driving conviction.
  4. Plan ahead and stick to your plan. If you’re going to drive to a party or somewhere where there will be drinking, be the designated driver. You can bring soda or another non-alcoholic drink with you. Most teens don’t drink—more than 65 percent of high school students said they didn’t drink any alcohol in the past month, according to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey—so chances are you’ll be able to find a sober buddy at the party to help you stay on track.

Scenario 2:

My friend who drove me here doesn’t seem drunk. She’s fine to drive.

Even if your friend doesn’t seem drunk, alcohol can still affect their driving. You have a right to take control of the situation and find another way to get home.

If your driver has been drinking, you can:

  1. Take away their keys so they can’t get in the car.
  2. If you’re sober, tell your friend that you can drive them home in their car.
  3. Suggest other ways of getting home for both of you, such as Uber or calling a sober driver. Offer to help them pick up their car tomorrow.
  4. Get other friends involved. It’s harder to say no to multiple people than it is to just one.

“Students should stay with reliable friends that will also not drink,” says Stephanie, a freshman from Brooklyn, New York. “If they are in a situation where a friend has been drinking, they should take the friend home and tell a responsible adult.”

“People tend to be reluctant to intervene, but studies show that most people also think that it’s appropriate to do so if someone else is too drunk,” says David Hanson, PhD, professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Potsdam. “You should feel empowered to intervene if a friend is trying to drive drunk, and you’ll probably have a lot of support.”

More info on how to keep a friend from driving after drinking.

Scenario 3:

My parents will kill me if they find out I’ve been drinking. I have to get home in time for my curfew any way I can so they don’t find out.

It might be terrifying to think about your parent finding out you’ve been drinking or that someone who was drinking drove you home, but chances are, your parent’s top priority is your safety. You’re better off calling a parent, a sibling, or another trusted family member and asking for a ride than risking driving after drinking.

A parent’s perspective
“We’ve had conversations about drinking and driving frequently in our home over the years,” says Marilu Gregory, the parent of a teen in South Orange, New Jersey. “I have assured my kids that they should call me if they are ever in a situation that feels uncomfortable and never to get in a car with anyone (including an adult) who has been drinking. They can call me and I will get them, no questions asked.”

If you or your driver have been drinking and you think you might get in trouble, here are some things you should know:

  • You can trust your parent or guardian. They were teenagers once too and might understand your situation better than you think.
  • Ask your parent if they’d be willing to drop you off and pick you up later to help keep you safe. If you really don’t want to tell them that you might need a ride because there will be drinking where you’re going, that’s your choice. But if they ask or if something goes wrong, tell them the truth.
  • Tell your parent what time you’ll be home. This way, they can reach out to you and offer help if necessary.

“Although it may be hard, call a parent or guardian if you truly need help and safe transportation,” said Anna, a junior from Wilmington, Delaware. “There may be consequences, but parents are there to protect you. Also, the consequences will be nowhere near as severe as losing your life, or risking the loss of life of a friend or loved one.”

Mary, a sophomore from Boston, Massachusetts, agrees. “Have an adult or parent you can always contact for a safe ride,” she says.

Scenario 4:

I don’t have another way to get home.

You always have another option. Plan ahead to make things easier for yourself.

Before you go out for the night:

  • Make sure you have the train/bus schedule, a phone number for a cab company, or the Uber or Lyft app. This will make it easier to deal with transportation later if you need a way to get home.
  • Make sure you have a way to pay for your ride home. Most places will take a credit or debit card, but you should have cash as a backup.
  • If you plan on taking a ride that you’ll have to pay for, ask a friend to share the ride with you. This will make it both cheaper and safer.
  • Plan what time you’re going to go home so you can make sure to get to public transportation on time.

“Be prepared. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you might have to make the decision later to drive drunk or ride with someone who has been drinking,” says Corbin, a junior from Boston, Massachusetts.

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Article sources

Erin Canty, MA, school social worker, Bartlett Junior Senior High School, Webster, Massachusetts.

David Hanson, PhD, professor emeritus, State University of New York at Potsdam.

Alcohol Problems and Solutions. (2015). Drunk driving can be stopped. Retrieved from https://www2.potsdam.edu/alcohol/PreventingDrunkDriving.html#.VRNUhrpOj1t

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Fact sheet—underage drinking. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/underage-drinking.htm

CDC Vital Signs. (2012). Teens drinking and driving. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/VitalSigns/teendrinkinganddriving/index.html

Change the Conversation. (2015). Building effective strategies for talking to your children about alcohol and driving. Retrieved from https://changetheconversation.ca/parent_portal/Parent_Document_1.pdf

District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department. (n.d.) Penalties for drinking and driving. Retrieved from https://mpdc.dc.gov/page/penalties-drinking-and-driving

DrivingLaws. (2015). Underage DUI. Retrieved from https://dui.drivinglaws.org/topics/underage-dui

Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. (n.d.) Teen driver safety. Retrieved from https://responsibility.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Teen-Driver-Safety.pdf

Mothers Against Drunk Driving. (2015). Drunk driving statistics. Retrieved from https://www.madd.org/drunk-driving/about/drunk-driving-statistics.html

Mothers Against Drunk Driving. (2015). How to prevent a friend from driving drunk. Retrieved from https://www.madd.org/drunk-driving/how-you-can-help/tips-how-to-prevent-someone.html

Teen Central. (2007). Drinking and driving, a teen problem? Retrieved from https://www.teencentral.net/Alcohol/d&d.php

University of Colorado at Boulder Police Department. (n.d.). Driving under the influence. Retrieved from https://police.colorado.edu/crime-prevention-safety/driving-under-influence

University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia. (2015). Preventing impaired driving in your teen. Retrieved from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=160&ContentID=47