Assembly OKs bills targeting underage drinking

Shadae Lee and Erica Terrini

Contributing Writer and News Editor

The General Assembly has approved several bills targeting underage drinking and has sent them to Gov. Bob McDonnell to be signed into law, but several students say increasing penalties might not deter those under 21 from drinking.

The bills would increase the penalties for teenagers who drink and drive and would restrict instances in which a parent can provide alcohol to a child under 21.

Approval of such legislation comes as recent U.S. data showed underage drinking on the rise and more Virginia teens consuming alcohol.

Anshul Palli, a freshman whose major is undecided, said the bills will not discourage underage drinking, especially college students.

“A lot of kids like to go out and have fun after work,” Palli said. “I don’t think it’s going to change what students do.”

Darious Rush, a sophomore whose major is also undecided, shared this sentiment and said he does not think increasing penalties will affect the “party scene” of the university.

Last week, the U.S. Partnership for a Drug-Free America released a study showing that alcohol consumption among American high school students increased 11 percent from 2008 to 2009.

“This year’s advancing underage drinking legislation in Richmond is an apt response that alcohol continues to be the most commonly used substance by Virginia teens and that nearly 11 percent of those killed in the commonwealth’s drunk driving crashes are 15-19 years old,” said Kurt Gregory Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, according to a WRAP press release.

WRAP is a nonprofit public-private partnership based in McLean that works to prevent drunken driving and underage drinking.

During this year’s legislative session, the House and Senate passed several measures to crack down on underage drinking. Erickson said the bills included:

• House Bill 862, sponsored by Delegate Benjamin Cline, R-Amherst. Under current law, when a juvenile is convicted of an alcohol-related offense, the case is automatically dismissed once he completes his probation. Under HB 862, the dismissal would not be automatic.

• HB 863, also sponsored by Cline. It would prohibit courts from issuing restricted driver’s licenses, for traveling to and from school, for people under 18 who have been convicted of driving under the influence or of refusing to take a blood alcohol content test.

• HB 908, sponsored by Delegate Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville. This bill allows courts to suspend both the motor vehicle and driver’s license, or impose a driving curfew, for people under 18 who have been convicted twice of underage drinking.

• HB 1293, sponsored by Delegate William Cleaveland, R-Roanoke. This bill clarifies current law that allows parents to let their children drink alcohol. HB 1293 makes it clear that the drinking is permitted only in the family’s own home.

Melanie Stokes, a media specialist for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said her agency has numerous programs to raise awareness among teenagers about the hazards of underage drinking.

One program is called Youth of Virginia Speak Out. It was started in 2001 after the number of Virginia teens killed in motor vehicle crashes jumped from 139 in 1999 to 157 in 2000.

YOVASO uses school-based safety campaigns to spread the word among students.

“The ‘Buckle Up, Drive Sober’ campaign is sponsored annually in February, with schools developing creative ideas, projects and messages to increase awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving,” said Mary King, a program administrator for YOVASO.

The teens involved in the program use a variety of interactive activities, like mock car crashes, to increase awareness about drinking and driving, King said.

VCU also offers substance abuse education and prevention programs through The Wellness Resource Center. According to The Well’s Web site, some programs include “National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week, lectures in classes and residence halls, meeting with student organizations to do health education activities, and acting as a resource to any faculty, students, or staff who would like information on substance abuse prevention.”

The Well also offers an Alcohol and Drug Self-Assessment test for students on their Web site.

However, some students say the legislation and resources aimed to educate underage drinkers have a positive objective but the outreach efforts will have no affect on the majority.

“If a person wants to go out and drink, they’re going to do it,” Delaney said. “Increasing (penalties) is a good idea. I think the minority will see that and change their minds but the majority will still go out and do it.”

On the Web

For more information, visit

• Washington Regional Alcohol Program: www.wrap.org

• Youth of Virginia Speak Out: www.yovaso.net

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