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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Zero Tolerance Makes Zero Sense

Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

In the Washington area, several civic groups, public health organizations and government agencies have teamed up for a campaign called Party Safe 2005. You may have heard the ads on local radio stations in prom season, warning parents that law enforcement would be taking a zero-tolerance approach to underage drinking. The commercials explicitly said that even supervised parties -- such as those where parents collect the keys of partygoers -- wouldn't be spared. Parents would risk jail time and a fine of $1,000 per underage drinker. Not only do such uncompromising approaches do little to make our roads safer, they often make them worse. The data don't lie. High school kids drink, particularly during prom season. We might not be comfortable with that, but it's going to happen. It always has. The question, then, is do we want them drinking in their cars, in parking lots, in vacant lots and in rented motel rooms? Or do we want them drinking at parties with adult supervision, where they're denied access to the roads once they enter?
Supervision of underage drinking is an interesting issue. It certainly straddles the line between protecting kids and actively promoting an illegal activity. If I was a parent of a teen, I certainly would prefer just about anything to drinking and driving, but I don't know that I would be happy with another parent actively serving my kid alcohol without my permission either. I know though that I dislike the methods anti-alcohol advocates use to try and sell sobriety to kids. I think that their are some good biological reasons for young people not to drink, and certainly one can give very good reasons for not drinking to excess. However, the fact is that drinking is an enjoyable activity that can make uncomfortable social situations (and that is a definition of a teens entire life) easier. Pretending that alcohol is not enjoyable or will make them have less fun is just a way to ensure that kids won't trust what you say, because it is a flat out lie.


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