Preventing Underage Drinking
The Department of Liquor Control (DLC) is the only agency in Vermont exclusively dedicated to the enforcement of liquor and tobacco laws and regulations. The 19 Investigators who work for DLC work together with local, county and state law enforcement agencies to help prevent underage drinking.
Recent studies show that the rate of underage drinking is still much too high. This is particularly true at the high school level. The Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows many teens binge drink, and are easily able to access alcohol.
Underage drinking parties are still seen as a right of passage in our community. These parties go on nearly every weekend at homes, in the woods, and in the fields around our state.
Despite the possibility of legal or even tragic consequences, many adults still see nothing wrong with supplying teens with alcohol.
It is apparent that law enforcement efforts alone can do little to discourage or stop underage drinking.
Together We Can
It is only through a community-wide effort that we can reduce underage drinking. It is our hope that this information will assist youth, parents, and concerned community members in reducing what is a dangerous and sometimes fatal activity.
Special Points To Remember
- The legal drinking age is 21.
- The legal age for cigarettes and other tobacco products is 18.
- It is illegal to sell or furnish tobacco to a minor.
- It is illegal to sell or furnish alcohol to a minor.
- It is illegal to allow or assist someone who is underage to consume alcohol.
But Mom, everybody does it... Teen parties have a long history. They are a social event at the high school level. The party may begin innocently enough, with a few friends over when parents are out of town. But things change when you add alcohol.
Teens are drinking at younger and younger ages. High school students babysitting their younger siblings take them to the party. Teens sneak into parent's liquor cabinets and fridges. They ask someone they know to buy them alcohol or some adult hosts a party and provides alcohol.
Hanging out with friends is what a party should be. That's why people get together, to hang out and have fun. That changes when alcohol joins the party. Fights, vandalism, sexual assault, and other criminal acts can occur at parties where alcohol is present. These activities can affect the lives of people involved for a long time.
In our largely rural state, teens often drive themselves and their friends to these parties and sometime drive while intoxicated. Having a designated driver doesn't make it OK to drink. While a designated driver may sound good, underage drinking is still illegal.
Alcohol impairs judgment. In the body of a teenager, alcohol heightens emotions, reduces inhibitions, and may lead to other drug use. One bad decision from an impaired teen may be fatal and devastating to the family.
Are Parents Liable For The Actions Of Their Teen Children?
Parents have the duty to control and supervise their minor children. If they fail in that duty and their teen's behavior results in damaged property or injury to someone else, the parents can be sued. Parents can be held liable even if the teen is not subject to liability. Parents can also be held liable for letting their teen drive a family car when the parent knows or has reason to believe that their teen has been or will be drinking.
Also, if a teen willfully or maliciously damages property or injures a person, either of their parents could be liable to the owner of the damaged property or the injured person, up to $5,000. In this case, the parent would not have to fail in their duty to control or supervise their teen in order to be held liable. This liability is in addition to any other remedy available by law (but any other monetary damage award would be reduced by this amount).
Recent surveys have found that:
- 71% of Vermont teens say it is still easy for them to obtain alcohol.
- 50% of Vermont Seniors drank alcohol in the past 30 days.
- Only 25% of Vermont teens think that drinking alcohol daily could be harmful to your health.
- 2.3 Million teenagers don't know you can die from alcohol poisoning.
- One out of every four underage drinkers already meets the definition of alcohol dependent.
- 1 out of 5 Vermont teens binge drink (drink 5 or more drinks in a short time).
- These days, the average age girls start drinking is 13 years old. The average age that boys start drinking is 11 years old.
- There are 10 million drinkers between the age of 12 and 20 in the United States.
- Underage drinking costs the United States $62 billion every year.
- 16% of teenagers who drink have experienced a blackout (they drank so much that their brain shut down).
Youth alcohol use can do permanent damage to a developing brain.
According to the Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey, an adult is providing alcohol to 42% of girls and 31% of boys for free. Why would an adult want to get your teen drunk?
- Three out of five Americans will be involved in an alcohol related accident at some point in their lives.
- 32% of car fatalities in Vermont are alcohol related.
- 22% of Vermont teens have ridden with someone who has been drinking during the last 30 days.
- 24% of Vermont teens used drugs or alcohol before their most recent sexual experience.
- Teenage girls who binge drink are 63% more likely to become teen mothers.
- 90% of college rapes involve alcohol use by the assailant, victim or both.
Advertising is a powerful influence in underage drinking. Children ages 9 to 11 are more familiar with the Budweiser frogs than Kellogg's Tony the Tiger, The Power Rangers, or Smokey the Bear.
Vermont Statistics are from the 2005 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
What Will Happen To Them?
The law is very strict about what can happen to a minor who uses alcohol:
Minors 16-20 years old who falsely represent their age to purchase, possess or consume alcohol will be sent before the diversion board in that county and must complete a Teen Alcohol Safety Program. If they fail to complete the program they will receive a $300 fine and their driver's license will be suspended for up to 90 days. If they fail to pay the $300 fine, their license will be suspended until the fine is paid. Their insurance is likely to skyrocket. This is a civil offense.
If they are under the age of 16, they will be ordered to appear in family court with their parents, and may be subjected to fines and other penalties.
Their second offense is a criminal charge. They can receive up to $600 in fines and they could go to jail for up to 30 days. Their license will be suspended for 120 days.
If they get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and their blood alcohol level is a .02 or higher, their license is suspended for 6 months and they complete the CRASH program. This is a civil traffic violation.
For their second offense, of driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content of .02 or higher, their license is suspended until their 21st birthday, or for 1 year, whichever is longer. This is also a civil traffic violation.
If they get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and their blood alcohol level is .08 or above, they are also charged with an adult DUI. This is a criminal offense.
It's Your Party
It doesn't matter if it is your own teen; you can not give them alcohol or allow them to drink alcohol even on your own property. That includes your home, your property, even your car.
If you know that minors will be consuming alcohol you can be held responsible.
If you furnish alcohol to a minor, sell them alcohol, assist or allow someone under the age of 21 to consume alcohol, this is a crime. You can be fined a minimum of $500 and up to $2,000 and you could go to jail for up to 2 years. You could be charged for each minor who is at the party.
If that minor gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and causes serious injury or death to themselves or others, you can then be charged with a felony and could go to jail for up to 5 years and be fined up to $10,000.
If any minor at your party breaks the law while under the influence you could also be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. If someone at the party were to die, then you could be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
It's called Dram Shop Law or Civil Liability and it means you can be sued for providing alcohol to a minor. You can be sued by all of the people impacted by the effects of your actions. This includes the person you allowed to drink (or gave/sold alcohol to), their family members, employer, or interested parties. It also includes any person they harm, injure or kill while under the influence. It can even include that person's family members, employer, or other interested parties.
Do you think your homeowner's or auto insurance will cover you?
Your insurance may or may not cover either damage to your property or compensation for someone who is hurt, injured or killed at an underage drinking party at your home or on your property. The insurance company will start with an investigation of the incident. According to one of the national insurance companies which cover many Vermont homeowners, it is unlikely that your insurance would cover anything if you were enabling the underage party. While they may cover the cost of defending you against a claim, they may not owe indemnity (they may not cover damages awarded against you by a court).
What about your teen?
They can be sued too. The statute of limitations extends for eight years, so this could follow them into adulthood. Your teen can be sued for both intentional and unintentional acts, such as automobile crashes, horseplay, and the like. In Vermont, even where alcohol is not involved, a teen can be sued for negligent driving that results in injury to a passenger, a pedestrian, or another driver.
Your teen wants to throw a party. Perhaps the party would be at your home or camp. There will be alcohol for those teens who want to drink. The kids will leave their keys with you or another adult -- no one is supposed to drive after drinking. Seems like you should agree to the party? Think again!
If your teen hosts a party on your property where drinking takes place, you could be held responsible if someone:
- Dies from drinking too much;
- Gets into a fight and hurts someone (or themselves);
- Falls and hurts themselves or someone else;
- Sexually assaults or molests someone;
- Damages property; or
- Injures or kills someone while driving after they leave a party.
Be aware, you might still be held responsible even if you are not home or are out of town at the time of the party.
It is a parent's duty not to entrust a car to others, including their own teenagers without using reasonable care. This includes not only cars but things like firearms, boats, motorcycles, snow machines, and ATVs.The liability is yours.
It's Anonymous and Toll Free
- Underage Drinking is America's # 1 Youth Drug Problem.
- Underage Drinking is a factor in Rapes, Assaults, Suicides, Homicides, Burns, Poisoning, Academic Failure, Addiction, Property Damage and Deaths.
- Adult Attitudes and Behaviors Affect Underage Drinking.
Be Part of the Solution... Make the call.
It's NOT a "Minor" Problem
1-866 TEEN USE is Sponsored by:
Vermont Department of Health Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs
Stop Teen Alcohol Risk Teams (START)
Vermont Department of Public Safety
Governor's Highway Safety Program
Vermont Department of Liquor Control
Vermont Department of Education
Vermont Teen Leadership Safety Program (VTLSP)
Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD)