Tuesday, December 04, 2007

New Drink Law In Effect

Providers of alcohol to underage drinkers will now find themselves without wheels if convicted.
A state law that went into effect Saturday requires that people convicted of this class one misdemeanor have their licenses revoked for one year.
Many Chapel Hill residents did not seem to be aware of the increased punishment, but proponents of the change say that it might deter underage drinking.
"We don't want to go into the homes and control the parents, but certainly we are responsible for the safety of our citizens," said N.C. Rep. Linda Coleman, D-Wake, a primary bill sponsor.
Coleman said the bill was introduced in response to the recent drunken driving deaths of several Wake County high schoolers. It passed the state legislature overwhelmingly in July.
"Typically when we hear about parents providing alcohol, it is when someone has died," said Ron Bogle, deputy director of the Coalition for Alcohol & Drug Free Teenagers of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
The misdemeanor charge has not effectively reduced the problem, Bogle said. He said he hopes that a "more practical punishment" will be a deterrent.
But some Chapel Hill residents expressed no knowledge of the changes and had mixed reactions when told about the penalty.
Cranston Hunter, a 20-year-old Chapel Hill resident, said that the punishment fits and that providers of alcohol should know better.
"If you have the guts to do that, you should have the guts to deal with the penalty," he said.
But others see the punishment as excessive. UNC junior Allen Spicer said a friend had his license revoked one year for drunken driving.
"This law sends the message that it may be equal in the eyes of the court to get a sober (under 21) friend to drive you to the store as to drive yourself when you're drunk," he said. Spicer, 20, said he doubts the change will be effective.
"As long as there's a demand for (underage drinking), it's going to happen," he said.
UNC students likely are to be the hardest hit in the community by increased penalties.
College students nationwide spend more than $5.5 billion per year on alcohol, more than they spend on books, soda, coffee, juice and milk combined, said Craig Lloyd , executive director of the N.C. chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"Many college students are acing Drinking 101 but failing to learn the class about alcohol," he said.
In Chapel Hill, university students are the demographic most often cited for providing alcohol to a minor, said Lt. Kevin Gunter, Chapel Hill Police Department spokesman.
Earlier laws on providing alcohol to underage people make exceptions for religious ceremonies, Gunter said, but they do not distinguish for the amount of alcohol.
"It doesn't matter from our standpoint whether it's one beer or a keg of beer," he said.
There have been five citations this year for providing alcohol to a minor, he said. But he said that in 15 years with the Chapel Hill police department, he has never seen a case that involved a parent being cited for providing a drink with dinner.
Anne Shelton, a member of the CADF, said that although her kids don't drink, she doesn't object to underage children having wine with family.
"On the other hand, if my kids had a party and had other people's kids over, then it would not be smart of me to offer them open access to my liquor cabinet," she said.
"The chances are that somebody is going to end up getting hurt."
    Changes to N.C. alcohol laws as of Dec. 1:
  • Being convicted for giving malt beverages, unfortified wine, fortified wine, spirituous liquor or mixed beverages to anyone younger than 21 years old, which already is a class one misdemeanor, now will result in the Division of Motor Vehicles revoking the offender's driver's license for one year.
  • A person who is older than 21 years old who is convicted of aiding or abetting someone who is younger than the legal drinking age in the purchase, attempt to purchase or possess alcohol now will result in the Division of Motor Vehicles revoking the offender's driver's license for one year.
  • If a person's license is revoked for giving alcohol to someone who is younger than 21 years old or aiding someone who is younger than the lawful age to drink alcohol, they will now be eligible to apply for limited driving privileges.
Contact the City Editor at citydesk@unc.edu
by Max Rose Staff Writer at The Daily Tar Heel