Kevin Dziwa* was watering his garden when he heard a loud bang followed by screams. He quickly ran to the aid of five teenagers who had crashed into the house next door, in the capital’s middle-density suburb of Cranborne. He was unable to save the teen driver and another front-seat passenger.
Tafadzwa Manjire* (17), in his last year of high school, and his teenage colleague in front are thought to have died on impact, while the passengers at the back were taken to Avenues Clinic in serious but stable conditions.
The crash took place around 6am, collapsing the Durawall onto the car.
Dziwa said, “I managed to pull the other passengers to safety,” but added: “It’s so sad to say, but the kids were terribly drunk.”
Police at nearby Braeside police station said the teenage driver had driven the car without the parents’ permission, had no driver’s licence and “alcohol was a factor.”
Unfortunately, Tafadzwa’s story is not rare. It happens too frequently to young, inexperienced drinkers who engage in extreme binge drinking, get too intoxicated to function, and their friends usually encourage the adventure and excitement.
According to analysts, alcohol is the drug of choice among youth. Many young people are experiencing the consequences of drinking too much at too early an age. As a result, underage drinking is a major public health problem in this country
For a teenager, getting a driver’s licence is a rite of passage: the beginning of a journey toward social independence. For some parents, however, it’s a reality marred by myriad “what ifs” and unsettling statistics.
According to Zimpact, road crashes still remain the leading cause of death among teenagers. Forty-five per cent of these crashes are a direct result of impaired driving.
“Zimpact is a non-profit making and non-secular organisation with the primary mission of raising public awareness and addressing issues of teenage drinking and drunk driving and the dangers of and possible consequences of the above,” said a member of the organisation, Collin Beattie.
The organisation, a local trust of volunteers providing a community service – Zimbabwe Drunk Driving Awareness – has recently been set up in an effort to make a difference by saving lives based on a number of objectives.
“Teenagers in general think they’re invincible,” explains Beattie. “They think they’re capable of doing a lot more than they actually can.”
An Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) official at their city offices says teens are more likely to take risks when behind the wheel compared to older, more experienced drivers. “When you read about accidents involving young drivers who have been drinking, there are usually other factors involved,” he continues. “Speed, inexperience, the lack of seatbelts and alcohol is definitely a recipe for disaster.” AA says underage alcohol use is more likely to kill young people on the roads than other factors.
Adolescents are already at increased risk through their relative lack of driving experience, and drivers younger than 25 are more susceptible than older drivers to alcohol-induced impairment of driving skills. The rate of fatal crashes among drunken drivers between 16 and 21 years old is more than twice the rate for drivers 21 and older.
Another important factor in underage drinking is availability, that is, the degree of effort required to obtain alcohol, as determined by geographic, economic, and social factors. Consequently, interventions aimed at the individual must be supplemented by policy changes to help reduce youth access to alcohol and decrease the harmful consequences of established drinking.
For example, police must have breathalyzers and have zero-tolerance laws when it comes to drinking and driving – strictly implementing the set legal blood alcohol limit for drivers or those testing above the prescribed limit.
The Traffic Safety Board says integrating these laws into community-based strategies that involve the cooperation of local government agencies, the law enforcement community, business leaders, and grassroots organisations enhances the effectiveness of such measures.
“Parents need to have some communication with their children about drinking and driving,” says an official at the council on condition of anonymity. “We think we’re so open but we’re not. Talk about the drinking scene, talk to your kids about your concerns. Keep the lines of communication open,” he said, emphasising: “You have to really make them aware of the dangers of impaired driving. You have to talk to them and you have to understand them. Let them know that you have expectations.”
Consider sending your teenager on a defensive driving course, as a way of getting young drivers to understand the fine line between control and chaos in a car.
*Names have been changed to protect their identities.