Kristin Cottrell Haynes is delighted to chauffer her daughter and five of her Falls Church High School classmates to their senior prom Saturday night in her Honda Odyssey.
Some of her daughter’s friends are driving separately in other smaller cars and others have opted for a limo. Haynes said the soon-to-be graduates have planned everything out from what time they’ll meet up, where they’ll eat and even how much money to bring with them to tip servers.
She said they left one thing out of their plans.
“There has been no talk of a sneaking in alcohol in this great group of seniors,” Haynes said.
Prom and graduation season has arrived and local police and the people at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) are keeping a look out on underage drinkers. Nationally according to NHSTA, in May and June from 2007 and 2011, 2,249 teens between 16-19 years of age were killed in car crashes when an underage drinker was behind the wheel. In 517 of those fatalities, the drivers had a blood alcohol level .08 or higher.
“Typically this time of year can be a problem on the roads with underage drinking,” said Chris Konschak, manager for the Richmond-based MADD office. “We try to make folks aware that it’s against the law to drink if you’re underage.”
In Virginia in 2011, 723 drivers between 15 and 19 years of age were involved in alcohol related accidents, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. That’s down from 726 in 2010. According to the DMV’s Website, Virginia has a zero tolerance law for drunk drivers under 21 with a penalty of that includes suspension of driving privileges for a year and a minimum mandatory fine of $500 or 50 hours of community service. According to NHSTA, inexperience and immaturity of drivers along with speed, drinking and driving, not wearing seatbelts, distracted driving, drug use and drowsiness contribute to teen related crashes.
Fairfax County Police and the Unified Prevention Coalition have developed these tips for prom/graduation season to help keep teens safe:
· Do not serve or allow alcohol at any party you are hosting teens; an adult who provides alcohol to a minor is breaking the law and risking that teen’s life.
· Know where your teenager is attending a party; verify there will be parental supervision, and that it will be alcohol-free.
· Make it clear to your child(ren) that you do NOT approve of their drinking alcohol.
· Report underage drinking parties by calling the Fairfax County Police Department’s non-emergency number: 703-691-2131. Your call can be anonymous.
· Educate your family on the risks associated with underage drinking and its proven harmful effects on the brain. The legal drinking age is 21, and students who wait until their early 20s to drink are 84 percent less likely to develop an addiction than those who start earlier.
· Make sure your teen has a plan for the night and that you know what it is.
· Do not rent hotel rooms for prom-goers.
· Know who is driving – if it’s a limo, check their policy on allowing alcohol.
Encourage your senior to attend their school’s All Night Graduation Celebration.