Research Priorities for Reducing Alcohol-Impaired Driving among Youth
This Research Needs Statement presents the top research priorities for reducing alcohol-impaired driving among youth identified by the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB’s) Committee on Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Transportation at its 1999 workshop. Research priorities for reducing impaired driving among other groups of interest including the general driving population, repeat offenders, special populations, and persons impaired by drugs other than alcohol were also established at the workshop and are available on this website. For a full list of research priorities identified at the workshop, refer to TRB Circular Number 502, Alcohol and Other Drugs in Transportation: Research Needs and Priorities.
Research Priorities related to the Epidemiology of Alcohol-Impaired Driving
- Relate the Age of Drinking Onset to Adult Drinking and Driving and Study Whether Delaying Onset Has an Effect on Later Drinking and Driving and Other Alcohol Problems
Problem: Research indicates that earlier onset of drinking is associated with increased drinking and driving, crashes, and injuries as adults. This suggests that delaying the onset of drinking will have life-long traffic safety and other health benefits.
Objective: This research should confirm and extend these results to define more explicitly the relation between the age of drinking onset, the amount of drinking, and adult behavior. In addition it should investigate whether delaying the age of drinking onset has an effect on later alcohol problems and, if so, what the most effective strategies for delaying drinking onset are.
- What Are the Drinking Patterns and Cultures Unique to Youth? What Are the Best Intervention Points?
Problem: Youth behave, drink, and drive in quite different ways than adults. For example, they don’t drink in bars after work; they drink at the football field on Friday nights. Their reasons for drinking and the needs they satisfy through their drinking also differ. Better knowledge of youth drinking behavior and culture would be very useful in determining the most effective intervention points and designing effective interventions.
Objective: This research should study youth drinking behavior and culture, distinguishing important subgroups (ethnic, geographical, socioeconomic), and should use this information to suggest effective interventions.
Research Priorities related to Policies and Programs to Reduce Alcohol-Impaired Driving
- What Features of Zero-Tolerance Laws Are Most Effective?
Problem: Several high-quality research studies demonstrate quite conclusively zero-tolerance laws overall have reduced drinking and driving by youth. In many ways this is surprising. The laws differ substantially from state to state: for example, some laws impose criminal sanctions while others use administrative sanctions. Many zero-tolerance laws are not well publicized. And all zero-tolerance laws are difficult to enforce: low-blood alcohol content drivers frequently exhibit few driving behaviors that would prompt law enforcement to make a traffic stop, and the standard roadside sobriety tests do not detect low levels of alcohol well.
Objective: This research should study why zero-tolerance laws have in fact reduced youth drinking and driving and should study what zero-tolerance law features are most effective. The research also should investigate administrative issues raised by different features: how they help or hinder offender processing, record-keeping, etc., and how these administrative issues affect the law’s impact.
- How Can Communities Be Motivated and Empowered to Enforce Minimum Drinking Age 21 Laws?
Problem: The legal minimum drinking age has been 21 in all states for almost 15 years. But these laws typically are poorly enforced. Underage drinking is not a high police priority, in many instances because it is not a high community priority. Existing research does indicate that when enforcement is enhanced there is a measurable, and often dramatic, impact on alcohol sales to minors.
Objective: This research should investigate how communities can be motivated and organized to increase underage drinking law enforcement. It should begin by considering community views, norms, and practices on underage drinking and how to build on these views, norms, and practices to provide greater support for age 21 laws.
- Determine the Most Effective Minimum Drinking Age 21 Law Enforcement Strategies
Problem: Minimum drinking age 21 law enforcement can intervene at several points: with retailers (both on- and off-premise), youth purchasers, parents, and other adults who purchase alcohol for youth. Each point requires very different enforcement techniques, some of which are quite labor intensive. Enforcement at each point can reduce underage access to alcohol.
Objective: This research should investigate what enforcement types and levels will be most cost-effective in reducing alcohol availability and use by youth.
- Evaluate the Effectiveness of Graduated Licensing Systems
Problem: Graduated licensing describes a method of introducing beginning drivers to driving gradually through a series of increasingly less restrictive phases. These phases typically are a learner’s phase when driving is permitted only if accompanied by a licensed adult driver, an intermediate phase when driving alone is permitted under certain conditions, and a fully licensed phase with no restrictions. The specific provisions of each phase differ substantially across the jurisdictions where graduated licensing is used. As one major example, some graduated licensing programs have a curfew that prohibits driving during certain nighttime hours while others do not.
Objective: This research should evaluate the effects of different graduated licensing provisions. It also should examine how graduated licensing provisions are enforced across jurisdictions.