Opinion

Cracking down on underage drinking

The South Carolina General Assembly surely saved lines when it passed legislation cracking down on underage drinking.

The new law, which took effect July 1, stiffens the penalties for anyone under age 21 who purchases or tries to buy alcohol. First offenders lose their driver's license for 120 days. That's up from 90 days under the previous law.

Repeat offenders can't drive for 12 months, up from the previous six months.

Young drinkers also must attend a state-approved alcohol intervention program for at least eight hours.

Underage drinking is a serious problem. The nonprofit Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation reports underage drinking cost South Carolina citizens $899 million in 1995 because of medical care costs, work loss and pain and suffering. The organization also reports that about 186,000 underage youth in South Carolina drink each year.

A 2003 Kids County Survey showed that 46.7 percent of high school students in York County reported using alcohol in the past month. Statewide, 37.1 percent of students used alcohol in the previous month.

The new law also toughens the penalties for anyone selling or giving alcohol to young people. Beginning Jan. 1, the law requires all kegs to be registered and tagged.

We applaud the General Assembly for passing the new law and Gov. Mark Sanford for signing it.

Still, while state leaders have taken steps to fight underage drinking, they still have work to do to crack down on drunken driving.

Several media have reported that loopholes in our laws let repeat DUI offenders avoid serious consequences. One solicitor has said it's easier to get a death-penalty conviction than one for DUI.

The S.C. House this year passed a law to clearly define driving under the influence and to increase the penalties for repeat DUI offenders. But the state Senate ran out of time to consider the proposal.

The Legislature has taken an important step in fighting alcohol abuse in South Carolina. We hope senators add to that record next year and approve tougher DUI laws.

IN SUMMARY

State stiffens penalties for anyone under age 21 who purchases or tries to buy alcohol.

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