The campaign to get all Americans to make responsible choices about beverage alcohol — to refrain from drinking while they are underage, to not drink and drive, to avoid binge drinking — continues to make headway overall. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the annual number of alcohol-related fatalities in car crashes declined by almost 41% between 1986 and 1996. According to the National Commission Against Drunk Driving (NCADD), the latest figures available for 1997 show another large decline in drunk-driving fatalities, from 17,200 in 1996 to 16,500 in 1997.
Yet, those involved with this problem say that lots of work remains to be done and have focused their efforts on three specific groups: underage drinkers, people from 21 to 34 years of age and chronic drunk drivers.
The prevention of drunk driving has received a lot of attention because of provisions in a transportation bill that recently made its way through Congress. One of the most publicized issues was whether the bill should require states to adopt a standard of 0.8% blood alcohol content (BAC), down from the 1.0% BAC currently used by many states, as a definition of intoxication. The Senate version of the bill would have required all states to adopt the 0.8% BAC limit, while the House version, which ultimately prevailed, provides states with an incentive, additional money for their highways, if they adopt the lower standard.
Other initiatives recently passed at the Federal level include requirements for states to enact open-container laws (laws against having open containers of beverage alcohol in a moving car) and to provide tougher penalties for repeat drunk drivers.
Yet, say alcohol-consumption experts, legislation is only one tool among many that must be used in order to encourage responsible consumption. And that is where the education and enforcement efforts of control state agencies come into play.
Preventing Underage Consumption
Although the underage population as a group has showed the biggest declines in drunk-driving rates — according to NCADD, the number of drunk-driving fatalities among minors declined by more than 60% since 1982 — underage drinking remains a major concern. One reason is that, after almost a decade of continual decline, the number of drunk-driving incidents involving minors increased nationally by 4% in 1996. Another, more general reason is that the underage population is always changing: there are always new young people to educate about responsible and lawful alcohol consumption.
Indeed, a number of control state agencies seek to educate children at younger ages. “You have to start earlier and earlier,” said Louise Kasper, public-affairs coordinator for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC). “It used to be that kids would start thinking about alcohol at 12, but we’ve heard reports of children as young as 10 and 11 drinking, which is scary.” For the past five years, the OLCC has run a state-wide essay contest for middle- and high-school students. In addition, a volunteer representative of the OLCC works with an independent group called the Parent Party Line, which has experts, including law enforcement personnel, trauma nurses and attorneys, speak to parent groups.
The Cumberland County Alcohol Beverage Control Board in North Carolina, meanwhile, uses a clown to begin talking to elementary school kids about alcohol consumption. In addition, the board recently started a teen council, with two students representing every high school in the county, to further education and discussion among older kids.
A series of TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures) programs (above) are available for universities and high schools; the NABCA booklet “Best Practices for Underage Drinking Prevention” details a broad cross-section of national and local programs.
Industry organizations also have programs targeted at younger children. For example, the Beer Institute’s range of programs begins with BAABES (“Beginning Alcohol and Addictions Basic Education Studies”) which is targeted at children ages 3 to 12 and continues on with “Courtrooms to Classrooms,” a program designed for elementary and middle schools, and “Stepping into Adolescence” for middle-school children.
In addition, control state agencies continue their efforts to discourage and prevent older minors from drinking. In some cases, this entails enforcement efforts aimed at underage drinkers. Two months ago, for example, the Vermont Department of Liquor Control (VDLC) organized its Stop Teenage Alcohol Risk Team (START), a partnership of law enforcement agencies that send personnel to any gathering, whether a public event like a concert or impromptu teenage gatherings, such as parties held in fields or near swimming holes. “It has been quite successful so far,” reported Albert Elwell, director of enforcement for the VDLC. “Either they’ve successfully prevented a party from happening or they’ve cited a large numbers of minors [for possessing alcohol.]”
The Ohio Department of Liquor Control distributes these and other pamphlets to the public.
Many states and organizations have programs aimed at parents. “A large number of parents don’t understand the law,” noted Elwell. For instance, in Vermont, it is illegal for anyone to give alcohol to a minor, while in other states, parents and guardians can do so legally. Elwell also pointed out that many parents don’t know the liability issues involved when their teenagers host parties. The DLC produced a campaign called “Controlling Teenage Parties” and distributed it to all the schools in the state. Likewise, the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) organizes “Parent Party Patrol” panel discussions to educate both minors and their parents about the consequences of illegal alcohol use. Materials for parents from industry organizations include “Family Talk about Drinking, “Let’s Talk Over A Beer,” “Parent to Parent for Prevention” and “Yes, You May Use the Car But First…,” all programs available from the Beer Institute, as well as “Alcohol, Drunk Driving & You,” a program backed by many groups, including the Beer Institute and NCADD, that focuses on educating both minors and their parents.
Some states have focused on preventing irresponsible alcohol consumption, whether by minors or intoxicated adults, at public events. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), for example, has announced an effort, made in conjunction with Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management (TEAM), that focuses on ballparks, stadiums and arenas. The program calls for the employees of these venues, from concessionaires to ticket-takers and parking-lot attendants, to be trained to recognize intoxication and take appropriate action. In addition, scoreboard messages and public-service announcements about responsible consumption will be aimed at the spectators. “We want to make these events more family-friendly,” said John E. Jones III, PLCB’s chairman. “We have to get to the heart of the culture, to the belief that you have to get intoxicated to have a good time.”
Meanwhile, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission instituted administrative rules in February for public events at which more than 30% of the attendees are expected to be between 15 and 20 years of age. The organizers of such events must institute a two-drink purchase limit, must serve their beverage alcohol in recognizably shaped or colored cups and must have three alcohol monitors, who have undergone alcohol-server training, for every 2,000 to 7,500 people. These monitors would patrol the areas where alcohol is served.
The Century Council’s “Alcohol 101” CD is targeted at college students.
Some state agencies and other organizations have also developed programs that specifically target college students. “The capstone of what I’ve done, as I enter my fourth year, is our work on college drinking,” declared PLCB’s Jones. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board just entered a partnership with Penn State University to study the problems of underage and binge drinking on college campuses. “There is a dangerous trend toward binge consumption,” said Jones. “And we are so newly into this, we not only don’t know the answers, we don’t know the questions to ask about why intelligent students do this.” Jones hopes that the three-year partnership with Penn State will result in the development of community-based strategies to combat this problem.
The Division of Liquor Control at the Ohio Department of Public Safety has also instituted an educational program for college students, featuring a character named Dirk. “It covers both consumption by people under 21 and by those over 21, especially binge drinking,” said Leo Skinner, the chief of public information for the division.
This NABCA poster touts understanding beverage alcohol and moderate consumption.
The Century Council, meanwhile, launched a new computer-based campaign, called “Alcohol 101,” in August. An interactive product on compact disk, “Alcohol 101” allows college students to type in different scenarios — a person of such-and-such weight, sex and mood drinks x-amount of alcohol at a party, for instance — and see what might happen, from a possibly fatal case of alcohol poisoning to an unwanted sexual encounter. “Alcohol 101” is being distributed free to college campuses.
Training people involved in the sale of beverage alcohol, whether by-the-drink in on-premise establishments or in closed containers in off-premise operations, can prevent underage or intoxicated customers from obtaining alcohol. Jim Peterson, chief executive officer, points to the results of two sting operations done by the Cumberland County ABC Board in North Carolina, one before a training program was instituted and one a year after the program started. “Before, 30% to 40% would sell to an underage person,” he reported. “After the first year, there was a less than 5% buy rate.” Working with convenience-store operations in his county, which are allowed to sell beer and wine, Peterson developed a four-hour class which covered topics such as spotting adults who are buying for minors, handling belligerent and intoxicated customers and following the new Federal laws about tobacco sales. Peterson is now working with local legislators to see if the training course can be made mandatory statewide.
Several control states already have mandatory training programs of one kind or another. In Ohio, for instance, any new agent or employee of an agent is required to go through the state’s “Responsible Alcohol Sales Through Employee Awareness” program. In Oregon, on the other hand, agent training is not mandatory, though most do go through a training program offered by the LCC. The training is mandatory, however, for on-premise servers. The OLCC’s Kasper estimates that the four- to six-hour classes, most often held at junior colleges, have certified 81,000 servers in the state. On-premise licensees must take the class every five years in order to renew their permits. Likewise, in Washington, training is mandatory for all on-premise servers and voluntary for off-premise licensees.
Vermont was, in 1983, the first control state to make such training mandatory. In this state, the employees of both agents and on-premise licensees must take a four-hour course. To be re-certified, the agents or licensees themselves have to take the course every three years.
The Vermont Department of Liquor Control distributes this and many other brochures to combat underage consumption.
Other states may not make such training mandatory but do offer it, often free-of-charge, to their licensees. The LCB in Pennsylvania, for instance, sends representatives on-site to teach its “Responsible Alcohol Management Program” (RAMP) to employees of on-premise licensees. At last count, 20,000 people had gone through the course. Meanwhile, the Alcoholic Beverages Division of the Iowa Department of Commerce produced four videos last year, covering topics such as spotting fake and altered IDs and recognizing an intoxicated customer, and has shown and distributed them to licensees.
Getting the Word Out
Public information campaigns continue to be an important tool for control state agencies. For instance, every year the LCC in Oregon holds its “Life Lights Ceremony” during the holidays. An evergreen on the LCC’s grounds is decorated with lights, one for each person, from LCC employees to state district attorneys and members of the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), who pledge not to drink and drive. “Thousands of people see the tree as they drive by,” said Kasper. “It is a very visual reminder during the holidays.”
Organizations concerned with drunk drivers have increasingly tried to target their efforts toward two groups, those aged 21 to 34 and those who are chronic drunk drivers. These two groups account for a high percentage of drunk driving incidents. According to NCADD, more than half of all fatal drunk-driving crashes are caused by 21- to 34-year-olds. Meanwhile, chronic drunk drivers, people who are repeatedly arrested for driving under the influence and/or who register high — 1.5% and above — BAC levels when arrested, also cause more than their share of drunk-driving crashes. One study done for the NCADD showed that while only 1% of all drivers on the road at night and on the weekends are chronic drunk drivers, these drivers accounted for almost half of all fatal crashes at those times.
The problem with these two groups is that they don’t respond as readily to measures, such as stricter laws and information programs, that have worked with other groups. “And it’s the problem drinker that we are dealing with now,” said NCADD’s Schiavone. “That’s why we saw the great declines before; we’ve done a great job with the social drinker.” For instance, a 1996 conference on chronic drunk drivers, held by NCADD and the Century Council, highlighted research showing that up to 75% of drivers whose licenses have been suspended will drive anyway. New legal approaches for these offenders include the use of ignition-interlock devices, which won’t allow them to start their cars unless they blow alcohol-free breath into a tube, house arrest and vehicle confiscation, a measure already permitted by 21 states.
And so the process of encouraging responsible consumption continues on. Using a combination of legislative measures, enforcement, seller/server training and public education, control state officials strive to make a difference.
Solving the Identity Crisis
Machines that check for fraudulent IDs are quickly becoming known to minors wishing to purchase beverage alcohol. “We’ve been told that our machine is being called ‘the black box,'” reported Kevin Messina, president and chief technical officer of Intelli-Check, Inc., a company in Huntington, NY, which produces a machine that checks IDs. “And bar owners tell us that minors, who have been waiting on line for 20 to 30 minutes, will turn and walk away when they see it.”
Intelli-Check’s machine, called ID Check, and also MinorChecker, made by CommStar, a company in Eden Prairie, MN, are machines that are meant to prevent minors from using fraudulent IDs to buy alcohol. Basically, these devices work by reading the information being encoded on the backs of driver’s licenses by an increasing number of states. The MinorChecker can read the magnetic stripes used by 21 states; ID Check can read the bar codes being used by some other states as well as magnetic stripes.
While minors can obtain IDs — by tampering with their own licenses, by using the expired licenses of older siblings or even by ordering completely fake IDs through the Internet — that look legitimate to the human eye, these machines go by encoded information that cannot be faked or tampered with easily. MinorChecker can even tell if the digitized picture on the front of a license has been tampered with.
And the machines keep records that prove that a seller or server checked for ID. The basic ID Check uses tamper-proof paper inside the unit to record the ID number, date, time, serial number of the unit and what the unit’s response was. In addition to recording similar information, the MinorChecker will, if given a minor’s ID or an otherwise “bad card” such as one that has been tampered with, automatically print out a document listing information about the person.
MinorChecker can even be prompted to print out an “Affidavit of Age.” This is a document listing all the information read from the license that asks for the person’s signature to swear that they are of age, if the seller or server still isn’t sure, even after the machine’s approval that the license is valid. “That’s documentary proof that they made a good-faith effort to verify that person’s age,” said MinorChecker’s Charlie Bacas. “And there goes any liability.”
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) has been involved in the development of MinorChecker and is currently using them in a number of its state stores. “We’re seeing a good number of purchases among our [on-premise] licensees as well,” reported John E. Jones III, chairman.
Both machines are priced at approximately $1,500 to $2,000 per unit.
One of the arguments often made against allowing the direct shipment of beverage alcohol from out-of-state producers and retailers is that minors might be able to get their hands on alcohol this way.
When a new law, allowing direct shipment, was passed in New Hampshire this July, that concern was addressed. “All the packages must state, in big letters, that there is an alcohol product inside, addressees must sign for their packages, acknowledging that they are over the age of 21 and shippers will ask for ID,” explained Jim Barbuti, the account technician for the New Hampshire State Liquor Commission. He is in charge of working out the commission’s internal rules for complying with the law. Out-of-state licensees shipping into the state must obtain a $228 permit and are responsible for paying an 8% tax.
The benefit to consumers in New Hampshire is that they will be able to obtain hard-to-get products, such as wines from small wineries, that are not carried in the state’s stores. The goal is to have the rules for direct shipment into the state up and running by September 1.