Posted on May 18, 2012

Wisconsin takes note of the changing seasons in many special ways. In the spring, the traditions include high school proms and graduation parties.

Unfortunately, many teenagers engage in risky behaviors during the spring prom season. A recent op-ed article in the Janesville Gazette addresses the dangers of underage drinking. State Rep. Andy Jorgensen, who represents Fort Atkinson in the Wisconsin Assembly, discusses teen alcohol use during prom.

Jorgensen reports that teenage drinking is a contributing factor in nearly a quarter of all fatal car accidents in the United States. Additionally, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers. One-third of those accidents is alcohol related. Every day, eight teenagers die as a result of teen drunk driving. Almost 80 percent of high school students say they have tried alcohol. Estimates suggest that one in every five teenagers is a binge drinker.

Even though it is illegal for people under age 21 to purchase alcohol, teenagers report they have no difficulty obtaining beer and liquor. According to Rep. Jorgensen, half of all teenagers surveyed by the American Medical Association said they could easily obtain alcohol from the parents of a friend. 

Unlike many other states, Wisconsin allows parents to provide alcohol to their underage children. Children under age 21 may even order alcoholic beverages at a bar or restaurant if accompanied by a parent who gives consent. This sends a mixed message, to say the least.

Rep. Jorgensen stresses that there are serious legal penalties for teen drunken driving—and not just for the teenager himself. Adults who have supplied alcohol to a teenage driver can be fined or imprisoned. They may also face felony criminal charges if the teenager causes a serious or fatal injury while driving intoxicated.

Jorgensen recalls incidents in 2009 and 2010 when teenagers consumed alcohol and later were involved as drivers in fatal traffic accidents. He has proposed legislation to toughen the penalties for adults who provide alcohol to young people aged 18 to 20 years old. Current law only applies to cases in which the teenage drinker was younger than 18.

At the law offices of Hupy and Abraham, we salute any effort to reduce incidents of drunken driving on state highways. Our Wisconsin traffic accident attorneys hope that Rep. Jorgensen’s proposal, if passed by the state legislature, is effective.