Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Squeeze

This seems to be something that has gone on every school year since the first time I started reading about it as a freshman back in 1996. In Athens, they are still trying to get a handle on outrageous underage drinking. This year, they have revived the open forum Hospitality Resource Panel (HRP) that brings together government officials, police and business owners - specifically those who cater to the music and alcohol comsuming customers.

While that sounds like a fantastic idea (Athens has a higher number of venues now than we did in 1996, with some truly outstanding additions), the main sticking point is that Athens-Clarke County now plans to arrest doorguys, servers or bar staff who serve underage folks. This is a step up from the massive fines to the individual and the business that came into effect just a few years ago.

My question: how much is this really going to help? The University and City have added onto the penalties and enforcement mechanisms for serving underage/underage possession and drinking every year since 1996, and the numbers only seem to be going up. Seem to be. Because back in the day, we were smarter about things and didn't 'ride dirty' in circles around downtown. We also had the prescribed method of underage drinking - that time honored tradition of the House Party that seems to have fallen out of favor for Generation Y.

They also have a problem in the fact that their figures from this year - those figures being underage DUI's and the proximity to downtown Athens - don't seem to be taking into account the close proximity of the residence halls where a large number of underage drinkers reside. (I mean, no one bothered to check an overlay of how many of those DUI's came in the Creswell Hall parking lot, either...)

Luckily, all this civic engagement has brought up and led to many excellent ideas. Late night bus service is on the agenda again. Athens has a vibrant cab services, and student groups who will drive you home for free. They even have Zingo now, where someone comes to drive your car home for you with you in it. Maybe they could push to get a streetcar...

But they keep ignoring the one fell swoop that would radically reduce the number of underage DUI's: lowering the drinking age to 18. Laws have to be enforceable for them to be truly effective, and the high numbers of underage drinkers have proven that current enforcement and deterrence is not effective. Unfortunately, that won't happen, because it would require parents to speak to their kids about drinking responsibly, instead of letting them learn about it from the oldest guy in their dorm hall. And who would want parents speaking to their kids these days anyway? It would require kids to start growing up a little earlier and taking responsibility for their own actions when they legally become adults, and who really wants that to happen? Guess we just gotta go arrest the door guys.


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