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How to Talk to Your Teenager About Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and/or Drugs


Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death among Nova Scotia’s youth. Throughout the province, more than any other demographic, young drivers between the ages of 15-24 have the highest rate of fatalities and injuries requiring hospitalization as the result of car accidents. According to Transport Canada, throughout the nation as a whole, young drivers make up a full quarter of the country’s serious car accidents. Unfortunately, alcohol and/or drugs play a role in 55% of fatal collisions involving teenage drivers.

The number of serious car accidents in the province caused by inebriated young drivers should be a cause for concern for all parents. Regardless of how responsible and cautious you believe your child to be, impressionable teenagers are particularly susceptible to peer pressure, risk-taking, and experimentation. It is important to impress upon your teenager the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs so that they do not become another tragic statistic.

Despite educational efforts to warn student drivers about the dangers of driving while inebriated or riding in a vehicle driven by an intoxicated friend, this dangerous behaviour is troublingly common. In fact, a recent study reported that one in three Canadian high school students had been a passenger in a motor vehicle operated by someone who had been drinking alcohol.

Educating youth about the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs needs to begin at home. A frank, open, and candid conversation with your newly licensed teenage driver could very well save their life, and the lives of other road users.

When speaking to your child about sensitive subject matter, it may be useful to unpack this issue in a non-confrontational, non-judgmental manner. Teenagers who fear punishment are more likely to drive home while intoxicated, in an attempt to hide their indiscretions. Therefore, newly licensed drivers may require assurance that, if they are unable to drive themselves home after drinking or taking recreational drugs, they can call their parents anytime for a safe ride home without the fear of punishment. By committing yourself to this kind of non-judgmental arrangement, you could establish a deeper level of trust with your teenage driver. When you provide your children with this kind of assurance, they might understand that their personal safety is your highest concern, even if you do not condone their experimentation with alcohol or drugs.

Talking to your child about the dangers of impaired driving may be difficult. It can be hard for parents to think of their children as budding adults, making independent decisions and incurring new responsibilities. Finding the words may not be easy. That is why Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD Canada) suggests that parents enter into a formal contractwith their teenagers. The organization’s sample contract is an excellent example of pertinent talking points for your discussion. Additionally, the act of signing a physical contract could even help hold teenagers accountable for their actions.

When creating your own contract to co-sign with your teenage driver, consider creating its terms in collaboration with your child. Doing so could help establish trust, give voice to your concerns, and give your teenager an opportunity to discuss their own concerns. A contract should also address the practical realities of uncomfortable situations that may arise in the future, if your teenager becomes too intoxicated to drive themselves home.

Of course, a parent’s job is not complete simply because they have had one conversation with their teenager about impaired driving. Once they have gained a bit of confidence behind the wheel, teenagers may try testing their limits, to see what they are able to consume before driving home without incident. However, teenagers may be less likely to take the risk if they are keenly aware of the statistics, risks, and real-world consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Since teenagers learn through repetition, parents are encouraged to continue talking to their teen about impaired driving on a regular basis, thereby reinforcing constructive conversations about responsible behaviour on the road. By doing so, parents can help their teenagers continue to prioritize their personal safety, even after they have become more confident drivers.

The role of a responsible parent extends even further, though. According to MADD Canada, the best way to educate your teenager about responsible driving habits is to lead by example. When teenagers see their parents making alternate travel arrangements to attend parties, barbecues, dinners, or other events where alcohol will be served, they can appreciate the preparatory actions that should be taken to ensure a safe arrival back home. By being a responsible role model, parents can set a positive example for their children through their own behaviour.

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Can Cannabis Use Lead to Motor Vehicle Collisions? 

Since its nationwide legalization, the stigma that once surrounded the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis in Canada has declined. Not only is the use of cannabis more commonly accepted in the mainstream, but many Canadians also believe that consuming marijuana is safer than drinking alcohol. In fact, a survey conducted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free Canada revealed that nearly a quarter of Canadian parents believe it is safer for their teenagers to drive under the influence of cannabis than it is for them to drive drunk.

However, driving while high is still dangerous. As a matter of fact, the percentage of Canadian drivers killed in motor vehicle collisions who test positive for drugs now exceeds the percentage of those who test positive for alcohol consumption.

Consuming even small amounts of cannabis can impair a driver’s ability to safely operate their vehicle. No matter how confident a novice driver has become behind the wheel, cannabis use could slow their reaction time, impede their motor skills, and impair their ability to make quick decisions when road conditions suddenly change. The use of cannabis could also cause a driver’s minds to wander, distracting them from the task of driving cautiously and stealing their attention from the road.

In Nova Scotia, it is illegal to operate a vehicle while impaired by cannabis. This rule applies to those who require cannabis for medicinal purposes in addition to those who use marijuana recreationally. If caught driving while high, depending on their previous record, your teenager could face a $2,000 fine, license suspension or revocation, and possibly even imprisonment.

When talking to your teenage driver about responsible driving, it is important to emphasize that, even though using marijuana before driving may seem harmless, the consequences of a collision caused by cannabis impairment can be just as severe.

Impaired Driving Can Lead to Serious Injuries

Accidents caused by teenagers driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs can have fatal consequences. They can also result in severe, even catastrophic injuries. Some common injuries resulting from car accidents include:

  • Whiplash
  • Soft tissue injuries
  • Broken and fractured bones
  • Internal organ damage
  • Concussions
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Paralysis
  • And more

If a teenager sustains a permanent physical injury as the result of impaired driving or riding in a vehicle operated by an inebriated friend, the course of their lives could be altered forever. Teenagers who survive traumatic car accidents could experience prolonged emotional distress and mental anguish. The difficulty of adapting to life with a disability may lead to additional disabling conditions, such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Furthermore, injured accident survivors could incur expensive costs for medical treatment and rehabilitation. These costs could negatively impact a teenager’s plans of the future and take a toll on the entire family’s financial well-being.

The combined physical, emotional, and financial hardships may make it challenging for a young accident victim to complete their education, which may lead to a reduced future earning capability. This could result in a lifetime of financial instability, both for the teenage accident victim and their family members. Because of someone’s poor decision to get behind the wheel of a car after consuming alcohol and/or drugs, the lives of multiple people can be shattered in an instant.

If you or someone you loved was seriously injured because of another driver’s recklessness behind the wheel, a Nova Scotia car accident lawyer may be able to help you recover financial compensation for costs you incurred as a result.

Contact Preszler Injury Lawyers Today

If you were injured in a motor vehicle collision caused by an impaired driver, you may be eligible to recover financial compensation for damages you incurred. To discuss the circumstances of the accident and learn if you’re eligible to pursue damages, contact us today.

For a free, initial consultation, call Preszler Injury Lawyers at 902-405-8282.

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