Other Voices

Teens, never ride with a drinking driver

Numerous alcohol containers were found at the scene of this crash on West Long Avenue in Fort Worth.
Numerous alcohol containers were found at the scene of this crash on West Long Avenue in Fort Worth. S-T archives

This time of year can be painful for my husband and me, with graduation season, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day coming one after the other.

The memories start flooding back. Losing our son Dustin is certainly the worst thing that ever happened to us.

Dustin was killed on July 10, 2004, when the car he was riding in crashed into a river, trapping him in the vehicle.

The driver of the car was a teen who had alcohol and drugs in her system. She and another passenger survived, but Dustin drowned. Dustin was 18 years old and just shy of his 19th birthday.

My son was not drunk, but he made a terrible decision. He got in the car with a drunk and drugged driver. And he paid the ultimate price.

As parents, we must talk with our children about alcohol, starting at an early age. We also have to teach them not to ride in a vehicle with someone who has been drinking or is otherwise impaired.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, last year 70 young people aged 12-20 were killed in Texas in traffic crashes involving underage drivers under the influence of alcohol.

We need to do more to protect our children.

Parents — not peers — are the number one influence on their teen’s decisions about alcohol, including their decisions around riding with a drinking driver.

We need to let our children know it’s never OK to get into a car with a driver who has been drinking, no matter who the driver is or what the circumstances are.

Teen alcohol use kills about 4,700 people each year. That’s more than all illegal drugs combined.

Research shows that about a quarter of eighth graders have tried alcohol, and more than 40 percent of all 10th graders drink alcohol.

It also indicates that children who start drinking young are seven times more likely to be in an alcohol-related crash.

Adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence.

That’s why MADD developed its Power of Parents program with national presenting sponsor Nationwide — to help parents talk confidently with their children about the dangers of underage drinking and never riding with a drinking driver.

Parents can download free handbooks for parents of high school and middle school students, and sign up for free online workshops at madd.org/powertalktx.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and MADD will be conducting activities and workshops across Texas to urge parents to begin ongoing, potentially lifesaving conversations with their children about alcohol.

As we approach prom and graduation season, talk with your kids about not drinking until they’re 21. Remind them never to get in a vehicle with someone who has been drinking.

Nights like prom or graduation should end in celebration, not tragedy.

Sadly, we can’t go back and save Dustin. On July 10 of every year, my husband and I start the day with Dustin’s favorite breakfast. We talk about our son. We think about his smile, his laughter, his fiery red hair and his freckles.

His death at the hands of a drunk and drugged driver was 100 percent preventable.

Colleen Sheehey-Church is the national president of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

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