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7th Graders in Walnut Creek Riding with Drivers Who Used Alcohol or Drugs

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

If you’re a parent, teacher, or any kind of professional who works with youth in Contra Costa County, you might be interested in the current rates of adolescent substance use in cities such as Walnut Creek, Lamorinda, Danville, San Ramon, and others. While our past articles focused on substance use in high school students, this article discusses drunk driving, and how one statistic from a survey completed by  12 and 13-year-old students in Walnut Creek could imply might indicate greater overall problems with substance use in Contra Costa County.

Children and Drunk Driving in Walnut Creek

Officials administer The California Healthy Kids Survey to every school district in California every year. It’s completely voluntary and anonymous. While the survey asks students about bullying, school connectedness, family, mental health symptoms, and substance use, it also asks sub-questions about those topics.

In the 2018 survey, one sub-question asked 7th graders if they’d ever been a passenger in a car “driven by someone who had been using alcohol or drugs.”

Their answers?

76 percent answered no and 24 percent answered yes. And thirteen percent of these 12- and 13-year-olds said they’d been a passenger more than once in a car driven by someone they knew had been using alcohol or drugs.

Let’s repeat that point here:

In 2018, about a quarter of 7th graders in Walnut Creek report having been driven, at least once in their lives, by someone who was intoxicated.

Here’s the data, in percentages:

Have you ridden in a car driven by someone who had
been using alcohol or drugs?

  • Never: 76%
  • 1 time: 11%
  • 2 times: 4%
  • 3 to 6 times: 5%
  • 7 or more times: 4%

Source: Walnut Creek Elementary School District. California Healthy Kids Survey, 2017-18: Main Report. San Francisco: WestEd Health & Human Development Program for the California Department of Education.

As the data show, 24 percent of 12- and 13- year-olds in Walnut Creek have been in danger, at least once in their lives, because they’ve ridden in a car driven by someone who consumed alcohol or drugs.

Driving Under the Influence

While this question in the survey didn’t ask the students to identify who the driver of the car was, it may have been an older sibling, a teenage friend, an older acquaintance, or parent. All these possibilities are problematic.

We know everyone has heard this a thousand and one times, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat the message loud and clear, one more time:

Drinking or using drugs before driving an automobile is extremely dangerous. Driving under the influence can result in accidents, severe injury, and death – for the driver, their passengers, and other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, or bystanders.

Be a Positive Role Model

If you’re the parent of an adolescent or pre-teen, we have a simple message: do not drink and drive. We’ll recap the reasons:

  1. It’s illegal.
  2. It endangers your life and the lives of your passengers and others.
  3. It sends a dangerous message to the next generation about alcohol/drug use and personal safety.

Of course, you may never even consider using drugs or consuming alcohol before taking the wheel. But you need to make sure your children and adolescents know they should never get in a car with anyone who has consumed alcohol or drugs or otherwise makes them feel unsafe with their driving.

Under the Influence: Warning Signs

If your child suspects that the driver is unable to drive, they should firmly refuse to get into the car. Familiarize your child with the signs of someone who is drunk or high, including:

  • Glazed, red, watery eyes
  • Smell of alcohol on their breath
  • Smell of marijuana in the car or around them
  • Rambling, incoherent, or slurred speech
  • Excessive sniffling in the absence of a cold: may indicate the use of drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine
  • Delayed reaction times
  • Lack of muscle coordination (for example, they might be having trouble opening or closing the car doors)
  • Drowsiness/lack of alertness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Unusual/non-typical mood or behavior like rudeness, aggression, or uncontrollable laughter

Encourage your child to watch out for these signs whenever they consider getting into the car with someone. If they suspect something is amiss or the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, instruct them to call you right away and ask for a ride. They should always wait for another safe ride option if they suspect the driver is intoxicated.

If they worry they may embarrass themselves or their friends by refusing the ride, then remind them that even significant social embarrassment is not worth the risk of accident, injury, and death: DUI is no joke.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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