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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.