In more and more communities across the nation, laws and ordinances against social hosting are popping up, an effort to curb the number of teenagers who drink and drive. These social hosting laws incriminate the parents, or any other adult, who provides alcohol to underage drinkers.
In one of the latest tragedies surrounding underage drinking, a 16-year-old Georgia boy was killed instantly during a head-on collision on January 24. The boy’s friend was driving and both boys had been drinking. They got their alcohol from the driver’s stepmother, who has been arrested on two misdemeanor counts – reckless conduct and furnishing alcohol to a minor. She has paid a $10,000 bond for her release from jail and, if convicted in April, faces as much as a year in jail and thousands of dollars in fines.
Kids in the small, affluent community where this tragedy occurred say it’s easier to get alcohol from older friends and relatives than it is to buy it with a fake ID. They also say drinking parties happen every weekend.
While this particular community has no specific social hosting laws, parents in the community have become so outraged by these disclosures they’ve launched a campaign – ‘Adults Who Host Lose the Most’ – in an effort to increase public awareness of the dangers of furnishing alcohol to minors. Their efforts are working, although not quickly or thoroughly enough to have prevented the deadly January 24 collision. In 2006, 73% of the county’s 10th graders said it’s easy to obtain alcohol but only 68% said so in 2007.
Until all adults in a community accept responsibility for condoning underage drinking, the parties will continue. Kids will always know the one place where it’s OK to drink and party with their friends. One high school senior in Georgia, where there are no statewide social hosting laws, says getting alcohol is simply a matter of having the money to pay for it.
In other communities across the country, adults are serving jail time for allowing minors in their homes to drink alcoholic beverages. In some cases, automobile accidents have resulted but, in other cases, adults face conviction even when teenagers don’t drive drunk.
The Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) organization says educating parents is one of their biggest challenges. Many parents assume it’s safer to allow drinking in the home, under their own watchful eyes, than allowing their children to go elsewhere under the false presumption there will be no drinking. In many families, serving that first drink to their children is a rite of passage.
According to statistics furnished by the National Conference of State Legislatures, 24 states have social hosting laws in place that allows fining parents who serve alcohol to underage drinkers. In some of these states, parents can be fined even when they are unaware that underage drinking is happening in their homes. In states where no social hosting laws exist, concerned citizens are turning to local zoning laws to contain the problem.
The federal Alcohol Policy Information System lists 10 states, including Georgia, where it is legal for parents to serve alcohol to their own children, regardless of the child’s age. No state, however, makes it legal for an adult to serve alcohol to someone else’s children.
The US faces an alarming trend of binge drinking, especially where minors are concerned. A 2005 study by the American Medical Association indicates alcohol is easy to obtain for weekend binge-drinking parties. About one-third of teenagers questioned say they get alcohol from their parents. Even more, 40%, get alcohol from a friend’s parent and 25% say they’ve been to parties where teenagers are freely drinking in the presence of an adult.
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