The University of Maine student newspaper since 1875
Sunday, Oct. 4, 6:03 p.m.

Op-Ed: Underaged designated drivers punished by simplistic laws

My parents have been telling me not to drink and drive and to always have a designated driver for as long as I can remember. In Maine, the law is especially harsh when it comes to drunk driving. If you get caught driving while under the influence — even if it’s a first offense — you face the possibility of jail time.

Those who act responsibly by lining up an underage designated driver run the risk of getting them in serious trouble.

Last November my sister was the designated driver for a party she attended. After dropping off an arguing couple, she started the drive home and was stopped by flashing blue lights. When the officer approached the vehicle, he asked my sister about the six-pack of beer in her backseat. My sister was 19 years old at the time.

It turns out the couple didn’t realize they had left some of their beer in her car. My sister had to wait, mortified, by the side of the road while the police officer searched her car. A $250 fine and 30 day license suspension later, my sister has transportation of alcohol by a minor on her record.

The law regarding transportation of alcohol by a minor states that “no person under the age of 21 shall transport alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle except in the scope of their employment or at the request of their parent.”

Individuals between the ages of 18 and 21 don’t usually work a job involving the distribution of alcohol and are often independent of their parents. College students make friends of varying ages; most use alcohol — sometimes in excess. If a 21-year-old friend needs a ride to the store to pick up beer for them, odds are you won’t say no.

As the law stands, the driver is usually the only person charged with a criminal offense. If the sober driver is charged with transportation, the buyer should also be charged with supplying.

But that’s not fair. You don’t know for sure if the buyer is buying for the driver. Not everyone brings a car to campus. Maybe the buyer just needed a ride to the store and all they had in the vehicle was a six-pack and a bottle of wine. There’s no way to determine for whom the alcohol was purchased.

A friend of mine from high school is a fraternity member. He agreed to drive some of his brothers — all of whom were of age and had already been drinking — to the store to pick up more alcohol. He was pulled over and subsequently charged with transportation of alcohol by a minor. The alcohol was confiscated even with people of age in the car.

Last year a student died after falling down some stairs at a party, possibly because no one wanted to risk police intervention by calling an ambulance. The university looked into a policy of amnesty for underage drinkers when they call an ambulance. The idea is to prevent the same kind of accident from occurring again.

The laws pertaining to transportation of alcohol by a minor, while less serious, present the same problem: If a 21-year-old decides they need more alcohol after they have started drinking, do we really want them driving? After all, “buzzed driving is still drunk driving.”

Designated drivers keep drunk drivers off the road, saving lives. If underage people are worried they will get pulled over and ticketed because the person being driven home has alcohol, what incentive is there to be responsible? No matter the circumstance, if an underage person agrees to be a designated driver they deserve a pat on the back — not a slap in the face.

Anne Chase is a sophomore journalism student.

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