Alcohol and Teen Driving

The statistics for teen driving indicate teens are far more likely to be involved in fatal accidents than adults. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that in 2015 alone, 2,333 teens in the United States died as the result of motor vehicle accidents, and 221,313 were treated in emergency rooms for injuries. In total, six teens a day on average died because of accidents.

The main reasons for the accidents are apparent – primarily, most teens simply don’t have the experience, nor have they formed the decision-making skills to adapt to many of the conditions they find themselves in. However, one factor that is completely avoidable and needs to be addressed more strongly is the influence of alcohol on teen drivers. It’s hard enough to learn to drive safely, but the presence of alcohol makes it more dangerous than it already is.

The Law

The National Drinking Age Act of 1984, upheld constitutionally by the Supreme Court in 1987, set a national age for purchasing alcohol at 21 and set penalties for states that did not comply. The law was adopted in all 50 states, including Texas, but while the law states it is illegal for minors to purchase alcohol, different states have different rules for minors consuming alcohol.

According to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC), in Texas, it is legal for a parent, guardian or spouse to provide alcohol for a minor, provided they are there when the minor possesses or consumes the beverage.

However, outside of those conditions, it is illegal in Texas for a teen to drink. And, when driving, Texas has a zero-tolerance policy for any detectable level of alcohol. The laws are clear, and the penalties can be severe; they include suspended licenses, fines, community service, alcohol education classes and more, depending on the number of offenses and on mitigating circumstances. And, in Texas, penalties don’t necessarily affect just the driver.


If a minor has received alcohol from a parent, guardian or spouse, the adult takes on responsibility for the minor’s safety. As a result, if a minor is involved in an accident, the alcohol provider is liable for both any property damage and for any injuries the minor may have harmed.


Even with laws in place, Texas has a major problem with drinking and teenage drivers. The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) states Texas leads the country in the rate of alcohol-related deaths among the 15- to 20-year-old age group.  While the CDC states that the numbers of teen drunk drivers has gone down 54 percent since 1991, one in 10 teens in high school still drink and drive, and a teen is 17 times more likely to die in a crash when they have a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or more.


The CDC suggests some measures are effective for eliminating teen drinking and driving, including:

  • Minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) laws in every state make it illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under age 21. Research has shown that enforcement of MLDA laws using alcohol retailer compliance checks has reduced retail sales of alcohol to those under the legal drinking age.
  • Zero-tolerance laws in every state make it illegal for those under age 21 to drive after drinking any alcohol. Research has demonstrated that these laws have reduced drinking and driving crashes involving teens.
  • Graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems help new drivers get more experience under less risky conditions. As teens move through stages, they gain privileges, such as driving at night or driving with passengers. Every state has GDL, but the specific rules vary. Research indicates that GDL systems prevent crashes and save lives.
  • Parental involvement, with a focus on monitoring and restricting what new drivers are allowed to do, helps keep new drivers safe as they learn to drive. Parents can consider creating and signing a parent-teen driving agreement with their teens. Research has shown that when parents establish and enforce the “rules of the road,” new drivers report lower rates of risky driving, traffic violations, and crashes.

The laws in Texas incorporate many of the CDC’s suggestions, but more can be done. Driving for anyone is difficult enough; driving under the influence of alcohol is avoidable and dangerous.

If you or a loved one have been the victim of a car accident involving a teen under the influence of alcohol and seek legal assistance, Guajardo and Marks of Dallas have the experience and resources and are proud to help our fellow Texans with the legal help they need. Contact us by filling out our online form or calling us at 972-774-9800.