Pennsylvania’s Underage Drinking Fines Soar in Attempt to Curb Teen Drinking
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on December 29th, 2012
Starting Dec. 24, the fines for underage drinking in Pennsylvania rose from $300 for a first offense to $500, and for subsequent offenses the fine soared to a cool $1,000, all in a new attempt to reduce underage drinking in the Commonwealth.
The law, which was passed by the state Legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year, was introduced by state Rep. Jake Corman, who represents State College, the home of Penn State’s main campus.
Corman says the higher fines are meant to discourage underage drinking and serve as a way for college towns to cover the costs of dealing with alcohol-related crimes, according to a story in The (Lancaster) Sunday News.
Still, it’s not a certainty that higher potential fines will make under-aged drinkers think twice before illegally consuming alcohol, the story reported.
“The statistics show that these types of penalties get kids’ attention and may have the potential to alter behavior,” Rep. Mike Sturla, who represents Lancaster City, told The Sunday News.
In 2011, there were 13,959 convictions statewide for underage drinking-related offenses and 27,309 public drunkenness convictions, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. Currently, underage drinking violations carry a maximum $300 fine for a first offense and $500 for each subsequent offense, the paper reported. Public drunkenness carries a $300 fine for first as well as repeat offenses. Violators will continue to have their driver’s license suspended.
Under-aged drinkers already face a mandatory driver’s license suspension under existing laws, but the higher fines aim to put an exclamation point on the penalties that will be assessed, according to a story in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News.
“I think if word can get out about the severity of the penalties, the maximum of $500 to $1,000, certainly $300 and $500 were a lot to a kid, so $1,000 is very substantial,” Lt. Mark Green of East Pennsboro Twp. police told the paper.
Stephen Erni, executive director of The Pennsylvania Driving Under the Influence Association told The Patriot-News that he welcomes passage of the new law, but thinks officials statewide need to do more to address the widespread problem of underage drinking. “We feel that while increasing the size of penalties may in fact send a message, we very strongly feel we cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” he told the paper.
In northeastern Pennsylvania, Edinboro Borough Police Chief Jeff Craft agrees, according to a recent story in The Erie Times-News. “We have our share of underage drinking, like other places,” Craft told the Times-News. “But I think if kids are going to drink, they’re going to drink. A higher fine won’t stop them.”
Two Gannon University students, Marcus Fray and Troy DiRienzo, agreed that the higher fines may not be enough.
“They may regret it more when they’re caught, but I don’t think higher fines will stop people from drinking,” Fray, 20, of Bridgeville, told the paper.
“People are only going to be more careful not to be caught,” DiRienzo, 19, of Blairsville, told the Times-News.
Certainly, higher fines for under-aged drinkers who are caught and prosecuted won’t solve this difficult problem, but they are an added deterrent that teens and other under-aged drinkers can at least understand. A thousand dollars is not a small amount of money to have to pay if one gets in trouble for drinking while underage.
At the same time, parents, adults, teachers, mentors and others need to continue to talk to their teens about the dangers of under-aged drinking and not make excuses for irresponsible behavior when it comes to alcohol. It’s even more dangerous when under-aged drinkers push the limits even further and operate a motor vehicle while under the influence.
The problem of under-aged drinking is one that parents and other adults must take seriously. Higher fines might help, but much of the solution still starts with awareness, honest conversations and openness in discussions about very sensitive topics such as alcohol abuse and consumption.
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