Covering Crime: Overcoming the issue of underage drinking

KIMT News 3 - Not all high schoolers choose to drink, but for those who do they’re often taking the risk after succumbing to peer pressure.

It wasn’t too long ago that the legal drinking age was 18, but in 1984 thanks to organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), President Ronald Reagan signed the Uniform Drinking Age Act, which required all fifty states to change their legal drinking age to 21 within the following five years.

It’s a law that still stands today, but it’s also a law that is most commonly broken.

To combat the growing issue of underage drinking, local law enforcement, area schools and health organizations have been working to educate kids about the repercussions of drinking at a young age.

As prom and graduation season is kicking off in full-swing, this message is something that local schools are taking very seriously.

As students enter the Mason City High School prom, each student and their guest are asked to undergo a breathlyzer test and it’s something all students are expecting and have gotten used to over the years.

“Well I guess it’s a good idea just to make sure everyone there is being smart,” says Mason City High School senior Matt Meyer.

Prom might be covered, but when school officials aren’t around, area law enforcement step in to make sure kids are staying safe.

Capt. Mike McKelvey with the Mason City Police Department says underage consumption is mostly a “crime of opportunity,” however the opportunity for catching kids in the act is a matter all on its own.

Officials say they have to have a reason, or probably cause, to go onto a property and write up a host of an underage gathering and finding this cause is the roadblock many officials run into.

Busting underage get together isn’t the only concern for authorities today as just last month in Austin four DWI’s were issued in one weekend.

Even with an increase in patrol units and a heightened awareness at this growing problem, Capt. McKichan with the Austin Police Department says that they still don’t catch everyone.

“The number of minors we come across drinking and the number of drivers that we come across drinking scene seems to be a pretty significant number we know what we know we were only touching small part of that,” McKichan says.

Breathlyzer tactics and an increase in patrols for folks drinking and driving have definitely made a difference in these communities, however this issue is prevalent nationwide.

Results from a recent study done by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that 39 percent of high school students in the U.S. admitted to drinking some amount of alcohol in the last 30 days.

Of this percentage group, 22 percent say that participated in binge drinking.

In addition to this, 8 percent of high school aged students admitted to getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol and another 24 percent of those questioned say that they have driven with someone who had been drinking.

Iowa lawmakers have recently passed legislation to help regulate the fines against underage drinking as well as hosting an underage party.

Under the new law, anyone who knowingly allow minors under the age of 18 to consume alcoholic beverages on their property could face a $200 misdemeanor fine, and the fine increases to $500 dollars for additional offenses.

There are currently dozens of cities and counties throughout the Hawkeye state with this ordinance already in place, but the law will help make things the same across the board.

Iowa is one step ahead of Minnesota lawmakers as there is currently no all encompassing law in place to help regulate the fines.

That being said, nearly two dozen counties and more than 100 cities in Minnesota have social host ordinances in their system, which mean that even though it’s not a law throughout the state, the fines are there for anyone who is ever caught.

While it’s a major issue, not all high schoolers are participating in underage drinking.

For many, it’s a matter of maintaining their position on a sports team, and for others, it’s just about understanding the consequences and making the right decisions.

Arriving at those right and moral decisions can be a frustrating journey, especially an age where peer pressure is a dangerous form of temptation.

Here are a few helpful resources for understanding underage drinking and the consequences it can have:

- Underage Drinking Statistics: Understanding things nationwide

- Drinking and Driving: How to tell if your teen is being responsible

- Social Host Ordinance Law in Iowa

- Social Host Ordinance in Minnesota

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