Underage Drinking

by Phyllis Marotta
When my kids were in high school, I was aware that there were underage drinking parties occurring in our small town As a parent, I wasn’t thrilled with that, and although I talked to my kids about the dangers of drinking and driving, I didn’t take action to prevent or report the parties, chalking it up as a “rite of passage” that teens just go through  Besides, some of those parties were hosted by friends of mine who promised to take keys, not let the kids drive, etc., so I thought, “no big deal.”
 As an employee for KDOT’s Traffic Safety Section, I know better now....
 I know last year in Kansas, there were a total of 556 crashes which involved an alcohol-impaired driver under the age of 21, resulting in 354 injuries and 18 deaths.
 I know adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind, and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence, according to the American Medical Association.
I know teens drink less frequently than adults, but when they do drink, they drink more heavily, putting them at a higher risk from the effects of binge drinking.
 I know youths who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21, according to the Centers  for Disease Control and Prevention.
 I know there are laws which prohibit providing minors with alcoholic beverages or cereal malt beverages OR unlawfully hosting minors consuming those drinks, and that the penalties for breaking these laws include fines and jail time.
 I know there is ZERO-tolerance for minors who attempt to operate a motor vehicle with a breath or blood alcohol content of .02 or above.
 I know there is a toll-free number, 1-866-MUST-B-21, to report underage drinking anonymously to law enforcement.
 I know I’d rather have the hosts and minors get in trouble with the law than have law enforcement knock on a door to notify a parent or loved one of a traffic fatality due to teen alcohol use.
 I know there are friends and families who are missing 18 loved ones as a result of underage drinking and driving in 2008.
 I know underage drinking is not a rite but a WRONG of passage.

 Phyllis Marotta  is a Program Consultant in KDOT’s Traffic Safety Section.

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