Hawaii can do better to fight teen drinking
HAWAII'S standing on underage drinking isn't great. In terms of state legislation on underage drinking, Hawaii ranks below average.
A 2005 survey by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation examined the statutes of all 50 states in terms of how thoroughly they incorporate the 20 most important components of underage drinking prevention.
The average score out of a possible 20 was 13.4. Hawaii scored 9. The highest-scoring state, with 19, was Utah, followed by Washington with 18.
Why is the prevention of underage drinking so important?
Because alcohol, in Hawaii and across the nation, is still the drug of choice among youth. And the consequences are horrendous. Underage drinking is a leading U.S. health problem. Here are some facts from leading researchers and government agencies:
» Alcohol is the number one drug problem among people under 21.
» Each year, more than 2,200 teenagers from 15 to 20 years old die in alcohol-related traffic crashes.
» Traffic crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens, and more than one-third of teen traffic deaths are alcohol-related.
» In 2004, 7,709 16-20-year-old drivers were involved in fatal crashes; 22 percent of them (about 1,700) had alcohol in their systems.
Parents and teenagers can find lots more information at Web sites such as MADD (www.madd.org
) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.dot.gov
). And the federal government provides a central clearing house for information on underage drinking at www.stopalcoholabuse.gov
. This site contains information on upcoming "Town Hall Meetings" later this month in Waianae, Hauula and Waipahu (plus neighbor island meetings).
SINCE 1999, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has included the prevention of underage drinking in its mission to stop drunk driving and support its victims. MADD-Hawaii has worked hard to get underage drinking laws passed in the state Legislature.
There are two bills related to the prevention of underage drinking before the current legislative session.
» Senate Bill 706 SD2, HD1 calls for a minor using alcohol to have their driver's license suspended. If they do not yet have a driver's license, the waiting period to get one is increased. Research shows that the loss of driving privileges is considered an extremely serious penalty by a young person.
» House Bill 3242 makes the consumption of alcohol by a minor unlawful. It closes a loophole in the current law, which up until now has covered possession and/or purchase of alcohol, but not its actual consumption.
These important bills will help Hawaii move up in the national rankings.
This represents progress, but more needs to be done. Significant gaps in Hawaii's underage drinking legislation include measures such as requiring beer sellers to retain ID information on keg purchases, and the regulation of liquor advertising that specifically targets minors.
MADD-Hawaii will continue to join with our friends and supporters in the Legislature, state agencies, law enforcement, and the lieutenant governor's office to narrow the gap between Hawaii and those states that have the most effective underage drinking laws.
We urge the public to join the members of MADD-Hawaii in taking a stand against underage drinking in Hawaii. Please contact your state legislators -- and talk to your kids!
Arkie Koehl is a member of MADD-Hawaii's Public Policy Committee.