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Ads educate teens about drinking and driving

Teens and college students were bombarded this summer with

billboards, radio spots and banners proclaiming, "You Don't Have to

be Buzzed to be Busted."

It's part of a campaign to let underage drinkers know

about Washington's new Zero Tolerance law which says underage drinkers with

a blood alcohol level of .02 through .07 percent will lose their license for

90 days. The project is sponsored by the Washington Traffic Safety

Commission (WTSC) and the Department of Social & Health Services.

But one teen said that the advertisements can only do so much to

deter drinking and driving.

"The ads will bring it to the attention that there's no tolerance as

long as the laws are enforced with consequences. Then it will start to do

some good," said Mount Si senior Shannon Nesbeitt. "I know people with

DUIs or MIPs (minor in possession) and the fact that I can't remember the

consequences says enough."

Nesbeitt added, however, that the law's .02 percent leeway doesn't

make sense when teens her age shouldn't be drinking at all.

"Zero tolerance should mean zero," she said. "They're sending

us mixed messages."

But Letty Mendez, WTSC's state coordinator for reducing

underage drinking, said although they weren't able to secure a pure zero

tolerance law, they will continue to send the message to teens that drinking

and driving are a deadly combination.

"In our state when the law got discussed, different things came to

light," she said, referring to discussions on the accuracy of the breathalyzer

tests and how alcohol in cough syrups and other items might skew the results.

"Impairment starts at .04 and we're happy to come away with the .02

and get a law in place. And we thought as we implemented the message,

we could get a `No use' message [out]," Mendez added.

About $350,000 was dedicated to the ad campaign, which started in

June and ends this month. The sponsors met with about 100 teens and college

students to choose the most effective way to get the message out.

"They advised us to use true stories," Mendez said. "The

high schoolers wanted it to be developed around parental influence and

the collegiates said hit us with the cost."

Nesbeitt, who heard the ads on the radio, agreed that hearing the life

stories of people who were affected by drinking and driving had a

powerful impact on her. However, she believes that if a speaker could visit her

school, it would make more of an impact.

"It's hard to believe that it's a real person [on the radio], even

though they said it was true stories," she

said. "A lot of people need personal proof for it to hit home."

According to the 1998 Washington State Survey of Adolescent

Health Behaviors, 54 percent of 146 high school seniors admitted to

drinking alcohol within the past month. At the lower grade levels, 44 percent of

256 sophomores and 10 percent of 275 sixth graders said they drank

alcohol in the past 30 days.

"A lot of these students had D.A.R.E. and had a lot of

information and know it's dangerous, but around middle school they go through, `I

just want to see what it's like,'" explained Phoebe Terhaar, a

prevention/intervention specialist with Friends of

Youth. "They start experimenting and discover it does things for them and

they like it. And they think it's not going to become a regular thing."

As for the ad campaign, Terhaar said she's not sure what kind of

impact it will have in the community, but that one thing was sure, friends

should always help each other out.

"Teens should never underestimate the influence they have over

each other," she said. "So if they did

nothing but support and encourage each other, that would be something."

And friendships are something that's important to Nesbeitt, as well.

"I'd rather have one of my friends busted for drinking and driving

than dying from it … and I think everyone does."

For more information about the new underage drinking and

driving laws, call WTSC at (800) 822-1067. For free alcohol and drug

treatment information and referrals, call the Alcohol/Drug Helpline at (800)

562-1240. Teens can also call the Teenline at (206) 722-4222 or visit their

Web site at www.teen-media.net.

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