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Changes in Alcohol Involvement, Cognitions and Drinking and Driving Behavior for Youth after They Obtain a Driverís License

Denis M. McCarthy, Sandra A. Brown

Objective: This study tested whether obtaining a driverís license was associated with increases in alcohol and other drug involvement and changes in alcohol-related cognitions for youth, and whether drinking and driving behavior increased with driving experience. Method: Confidential, anonymous surveys were conducted at two time points (fall, spring) with students at four high schools in San Diego county (N = 2,865, 51% female). Data were collected on alcohol, cigarette and marijuana use, license status, alcohol use by peers, attitudes towards drinking and driving and drinking and driving behaviors. Results: Nondrivers (60%), new drivers (obtained a license between Time 1 and Time 2) and experienced drivers (26%) were compared on study variables at both time points and over time. Initially obtaining a driverís license was associated with increased frequency of substance use. Results were not significant for quantity of alcohol use, frequency of heavy drinking or perceived alcohol use norms. Attitudes towards drinking and driving reflected an increase in the perceived dangerousness of this behavior for new drivers. Drinking and driving behavior during the last 30 days increased with increased driving experience. Conclusions: The results indicate a number of changes in substance involvement after obtaining a driverís license. However, initially this transition may also indicate a period of protection against drinking and driving. These results may have implications for the target and content of drinking and driving interventions. (J. Stud. Alcohol 65: 289-296, 2004)