WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 /U.S. Newswire/ - A survey released today shows that states are aggressively targeting one of the most significant highway safety challenges - underage drinking. The report, published by the National Association of Governors Highway Safety Representatives (NAGHSR), includes responses from 39 state highway safety offices. The survey details information on the work of statewide coalitions, the education and enforcement programs that are conducted and the types of data gathered to determine the nature and extent of the underage drinking problem.
The report concludes that states' efforts to reduce underage drinking have been successful as evidenced by: increased public awareness of the problem, greater cooperation among state and local organizations, decreases in alcohol use and alcohol-related vehicle crashes and the injuries and fatalities they cause. Statistics prove this success. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the fatality rate in 2000 was the lowest ever recorded at nine fatalities per 100,000 youth. NAGHSR Chair Marsha Lembke says that, "The states have made much progress in the area of underage drinking prevention efforts through a combination of educational and enforcement activities, but more work must be done."
Lembke is pleased that states are on the right track, but cautions that a variety of external factors are going to make the challenge of reducing underage drinking even greater. Lembke cites a looming proposed federal tax cut on beer prices as well as increased alcohol advertising on television as potential roadblocks to further progress. "By themselves, these factors may not seem so significant, but combined they are going to make our jobs even harder." NAGHSR joined Mothers Against Drunk Driving late last year in urging Congress to reject industry efforts to lower the beer tax (see news release at www.statehighwaysafety.org). NAGHSR has also expressed concern that NBC has ended a long-standing ban on liquor advertising. The Association fears underage drinkers may be exposed to these ads. Lembke says, "I'm very concerned that some of these ads may be airing at times when a large number of young viewers are watching such as during major sporting events like the Winter Olympics."
"Survey of the States: Underage Drinking Prevention" breaks down state efforts into three categories: prevention/education activities, college programs and enforcement.
- Fourteen states conduct youth forums, summits or conferences such as the "Get a Grip" conference in Iowa and "Take A Stand" in Kansas.
- Nineteen states distribute printed information or videos on underage drinking, six states produce public service announcements and three states (Mississippi, Utah and Washington) make extensive use of radio to get out the message on the dangers of underage drinking
- Over 30 states have identified the college/university community as a special target audience.
- Six states have developed special programs or campaigns such as "Designated Drivers do it for Friends" in Louisiana and "Operation Safe Fall" in Rhode Island.
- Twenty-five states conduct compliance checks to insure liquor licensees are obeying the law and 23 states conduct "Cops in Shops" programs where police officers are stationed in liquor outlets to apprehend underage youth who attempt to purchase alcohol.
- Eight states have some type of party patrol program that apprehends youth who are drinking illegally at a party and four states have a toll-free tip line.
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- States have customized enforcement efforts to meet their unique needs and challenges. In California, the state has targeted youth who travel into Mexico because the drinking age is 18. Hawaii has a program to address rave parties and in Mississippi, personnel conduct court monitoring.