Every 15 Minutes event at high school next week; parents advised to converse with kids about drinking, driving

House Calls runs monthly. Today's column was written by Rita Nicklas, Emergency Department coordinator at Sutter Coast Hospital.

Every 15 minutes someone in the United States dies in an alcohol-related car crash.

Drinking and driving has become a serious issue among American teenagers.

In order to drive safely, a person has to be alert, capable to make and carry out decisions based on what is happening around them. This coordination while driving becomes difficult under the influence of alcohol.

Alcohol leads to loss of coordination, poor judgment, slowing down of reflexes and distortion of vision, all of which may cause an accident. The statistics related to alcohol and driving paint a gruesome picture about the entire trend.

Did you know that car crashes cause more teen deaths each year than drugs, violence or suicide?

Did you know that this year, like every year, more than 5,000 teens will likely die on America's roads?

Did you know that 400,000 teens suffer serious driving-related injuries every year, and many of these are alcohol related?

Did you know that three out of four teens killed in drunk driving accidents were not wearing seat belts?

Did you know that nearly 1 million high school teens drank alcohol and got behind the wheel in 2011?

Know the facts: Teen drivers are three times more likely than more experienced drivers to be involved in a fatal crash. Drinking any alcohol greatly increases this risk for teens.

More can be done to protect the lives of young drivers and everyone who shares the road with them. Here are some steps you can take to decrease the incidence of fatal teen car crashes.

Parents can have a big impact on teenage drinking and driving. They should recognize the dangers of teen drinking and driving and talk to their teens about it. Studies have shown that teens whose parents talk to them about alcohol use are far less likely to drink than those whose parents do not discuss the issue with them.

Parents should develop an agreement or sign a "contract for life" with their teen. This is an agreement with that he or she will practice safe driving habits.

This might include rules about wearing a seat belt on every trip, setting a limit on the number of teen passengers, never using a cell phone to talk or text while driving, obeying speed limits and never drinking and driving.

Parents should establish that, in the event that theirteen, or his or her friends, has been drinking that they will call the parents anytime they need a ride home. In exchange, parents will not ask any questions until a later, calmer time.

Putting the rules and consequences in writing helps to reinforce them, but driving contracts only work if parents are consistent in enforcing the consequences outlined in the contract if the rules are broken.

Most importantly, responsible parents set a good example and instill responsible behaviors in teens by modeling safe driving behaviors and keeping lines of communication open.

Teens, take these steps to ensure your safety:

Become a responsible driver by following the "rules of the road."

Wear a seat belt every time you get behind the wheel, no matter how short the trip.

Obey speed limits.

Never use a cell phone to talk or text while driving.

Do not give in to peer pressure - refuse to ride in a car with a driver who has been drinking.

Never, ever, choose to drink and drive.

Parents and teens need to keep the conversation open and have it often.

Every 15 minutes. Don't become the latest example of that statistic.

Email suggestions for future House Calls columns to Beth Liles at Sutter Coast Hospital,