No drinking, no exception

Area law enforcement agencies have a message for area teens and their parents as prepare for this year’s prom and graduation season.

They must have fun without alcohol.

Michigan’s zero-tolerance law prohibits minors from drinking and driving – without exception.

Zero tolerance laws are the laws of the land in nearly every state in the nation.

These laws make it illegal for people under 21 to drive with any measurable blood alcohol content.

Zero-tolerance laws are important because they can help protect teens from traffic crashes.

One study shows that states with zero-tolerance laws reduced the number of single-vehicle nighttime fatal crashes involving young drivers by 16 percent, compared to a one percent increase in such crashes in states without zero tolerance.

In Michigan, the consequences are severe for having “just one drink before driving.”

The police will be tough on minors who have been drinking and driving.

Arrested teens may:

– Lose their license for 30 to 90 days.

– Pay up to $250 in fines.

– Perform up to 45 days of community service.

– Have four points added to their driving record.

– Pay as much as $4,000 in attorney fees.

– Be subjected to increased insurance, which can add up to three times the current auto insurance premium for a three year period.

In Wisconsin, drivers under 21 also must maintain absolute sobriety.

For drivers under age 21, Wisconsin Act 317 has increased the penalty to violating the absolute sobriety law to $375.

Violators also are assessed four demerit points on their driving records and have their license suspended for 90 days.

Previously, the maximum penalty was $135 in fines, license suspension for 90 days, but no demerit points.

Those demerit points are especially painful when paying teen-age auto insurance rates.

Nearly one-third of youth under 21 killed in traffic crashes die in alcohol-related crashes during April, May, and June – prom and graduation seasons – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports.

With prom and graduation upon us, parents must act now to keep their teens alcohol-free.

It is critical that parents engage their children in direct and factual conversation about the dangers of underage drinking early and often during this perilous time of year.

Many of our youth will be faced with making a decision regarding alcohol in the coming weeks and months, including personally drinking alcohol.

A lot of work needs to be done on the education and prevention front.

Alcohol abuse is the No. 1 drug problem facing the United States.

Youth violence, traffic crashes, property crime, treatment, and medical aid due to underage alcohol use costs the state of Michigan $2 billion annually.

Underage drinking only happens because adults allow it, because someone over the age of 21 has purchased, provided, or assisted an underage person to obtain alcohol.

Although strides are being made to reduce underage drinking, the Michigan Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicates that 69 percent of Michigan high school students, 9th through 12th grade, reported having at least one drink during their lifetime.

For high school seniors the rate is higher at 77 percent. In addition, 35 percent of those high school seniors reported drinking alcohol within the past 30 days.

Some statistics about America’s drinking habit:

– America’s young people choose alcohol more so than any other product they are prohibited by law from having, more than tobacco or illicit drugs.

– 17 percent of 12-20 year olds report binge drinking in the past month.

– 35 percent of teens cite drinking and driving as a top social concern.

– 42 percent of full time college students report binge drinking.

All adults have a role in preventing underage drinking.

Adults may be parents, siblings, or other family members. But it’s also beyond family.

Coaches, teachers, law enforcement, clergy and retailers can have an impact as well.

Regardless of our roles and identities, adults interact with youth on a regular basis and everyone can help send a clear message that underage drinking is not appropriate.

Here are some ways adults can send a clear message:

– Parents can set clear rules and expectations with their children that in their family it is not OK to drink before the age of 21.

– Teachers can set rules in their classrooms that talking about parties that occurred over the weekend and involved drinking is not allowed.

– Coaches can set clear standards that drinking by members of their team is not allowed, and enforce these standards consistently and without exception.

Parents are a child’s most influential teacher.

Parents who choose to drink should serve as positive role models by drinking sensibly and in moderation so that when their teenagers are of legal drinking age they know what is appropriate and responsible behavior.

When was the last time you talked to your kids about alcohol?

It isn’t something that can simply be left to the schools or churches to handle.

It is only when parents take an active role in discouraging alcohol usage that real progress can be made.

And a bad example on the parents’ part can undermine previously-learned lessons very quickly.