The news ripped through the heart of every parent in Arizona.  Three families devastated by horrific  loss  –  two whose exceptionally talented  young sons  were killed in a Tempe traffic accident in the early hours of a recent Sunday morning,  and one whose promising  17-year old daughter, while allegedly under the influence of alcohol, drove the car that caused the accident.  She, at least, can live a long, fulfilling life but only years of freedom are lost to the criminal justice system and then with decades of memories that can’t be unmade.  This tragedy, Moms and Dads, is a teaching moment for every child in your household, because this tragedy is one that could have been prevented.

After meeting with scores of Arizona parents and teens in our Teen Law School seminars, and after studying the research on teen alcohol and drug use in our state, I am convinced of three things: 

  • First, most parents are unaware of how deeply involved our young people are in a party culture involving alcohol (and drugs)
  • Second, neither parents nor teens know how serious and life-altering the legal consequences in Arizona can be for drinking and (or drug related) driving 
  • Third, that education, frank discussion and skills-building, for both parents and teens can make a difference that could keep kids alive and families together.

Just how alcohol involved are our kids?  According to the 2009 Arizona Youth Risk Behavior Study, almost 40% of 9th graders reported drinking alcohol on at least one day in the 30 days before taking the survey, and more than 53% of 12th graders admitted the same.  When I ask teens in our seminars to estimate the percentage of kids in their own schools who are using alcohol, the numbers they give are much higher, in the range of 80 to 90%!   Now that’s peer pressure!   According to the study, more than 30% of 12th graders admit that, at least once in the past 30 days, they have ridden in a car driven by someone who’s been drinking.  In our seminars, teens think that number should be at least twice as high.  Clearly, alcohol use and driving under the influence have become normalized in teen life, and the pressure to “join in” is great. 

Marijuana usage also increased last year among Arizona high school students, according to the study.  As with alcohol, teens just don’t perceive pot to be dangerous.  Try sharing this bit of information with your kids to start a conversation that might change their minds.   Arizona is one of 17 states which has adopted a per se drugged driving law.   Our law states that ANY measureable amount of an illicit drug OR its METABOLITE in a driver’s system is illegal and will result in aggravated charges being filed against a driver arrested for DUI.  Slow metabolizing drugs like marijuana can actually remain in one’s system for days, weeks or even months in the case of heavy smokers. 

The stark realities that can result from a single, bad decision are very difficult for most teens to imagine without guidance from caring adults.  Yet, I believe that most teens can learn to make better choices and take fewer chances when they are given the opportunity to learn, encouraged to challenge “group think,” supported in their efforts to resist peer pressure and rewarded for healthy decision making. 

For more information on underage drinking and peer pressure resistance, visit www.coolspot.gov or email us for a bibliography of resources at www.teenlawschool.com.  DUI and alcohol related offenses in Arizona are extremely serious and require the expert representation of seasoned attorneys who are practiced in the protection of your constitutional rights.  Davis Miles attorneys are ready to defend the rights of any of your family members arrested for DUI or other alcohol related offenses. 

Your Family and The Law is written by Claudia Gilburd, Founder of Teen Law School, Inc. as a public service to the clients and friends of Davis Miles Law Firm.  For more information on Teen Law School and its educational seminars for teens and their parents, please contact info@teenlawschool.com.