MIAMI (CBSMiami) – As prom and graduations approach, a new study shows less than one-third of the 4,700 annual underage drinking-related deaths in the U.S. result from road crashes. The findings show the importance of preventing underage drinking even if there is no risk of drinking and driving, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
MADD released the study as part of Alcohol Awareness Month and in advance of the group’s third annual national PowerTalk 21 Day on April 21. The day is meant to encourage parents to talk to their children about alcohol in order to prevent underage drinking and its many associated dangers.
“It’s personal with me,” said Helen Witty of MADD. “The kids that killed my daughter were 17 and 18 years old and never intended to hurt anyone. I know that.”
But it doesn’t make coping with her daughter’s death any easier. Her daughter, 16 year-old Helen Marie, was killed by an underage drunk driver who hit her as she roller skated on the walking path along Red Road in Pinecrest in June, 2000.
Witty now works with Miami-Dade’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving and said her message to parents is simple.
“Communication works. Communication is vital,” stressed Witty.
“It’s about decision making and understanding the pitfalls and prevention. The only way we are able to do that is that the parents are the child’s first teacher. We want them to have the tools that they need to spread this message and speak to their children on a level that they understand,” said Paul Wilson from Miami-Dade Public Schools Community Engagement.
Miami-Dade Public Schools have partnered up with MADD and Jackson Memorial Hospital to help inspire and encourage parents to speak with their kids.
“It’s time we said it’s not just about drinking and driving for underage kids, it’s about keeping sober to 21 so you can obtain that clarity that is very powerful,” said Witty
It’s a clarity that lawyers said 20-year-old Karlie Tomica didn’t have after a night of drinking when she got behind the wheel and hit and killed South Beach chef Stefano Riccioletti who was a husband and father of two children. She’s charged with DUI manslaughter.
Using 2010 data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MADD estimates that 32-percent of all deaths related to underage (age 15-20) alcohol use were traffic fatalities and 68-percent were other fatal incidents, including homicides (30 percent), suicides (14 percent), alcohol poisonings (9 percent) and other causes of death (15 percent).
Parents who think their children are safe because they have agreed not to drink and drive are actually only preventing about a third of the risks associated with underage drinking.
PowerTalk 21 encourages parents to use the organization’s Power of Parents handbook to help in having these conversations with their children. The parent handbook is the cornerstone of the community-based program and is available free to communities through the website and through 30-minute parent workshops facilitated by trained MADD staff and volunteers.
MADD Dade County offers free Power of Parents workshops and resources.
For more information, go to www.madd.org/powertalk21.