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Underage drinking, car accidents and creating a safer society

Drunk driving accidents claim thousands of lives every year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the overall national death toll has been around 10,000 in recent years. 

In 2010, the number of deaths was more than that figure. In 2011 it was under. But a number slightly below 10,000 is still an awful lot of deaths in car accidents involving alcohol.

There are therefore good reasons for strong restrictions against underage drinking. But in a recent highly publicized incident in Maryland, a prominent law enforcement official failed to report underage drinking. In this post we will discuss that incident.

The law enforcement official was Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (the AG). According to press accounts, the AG paid a visit to a beach-house party where underage drinking was going on.

The event was a high school graduation party with a dance going on. The attorney general found himself in the midst of teenagers drinking from cups that conceivably could have contained Kool Aid.

It might have been more logical to assume, however, that many of the cups contained beer. In any case, the attorney general said at first that he was only there to talk with his son, who was the DJ at the party.

The attorney general subsequently received heavy criticism for claiming that he had no authority to reign in suspected underage drinking. After all, in his official capacity he had made public service announcements intended to discourage such drinking.

Attorney General Gansler is running for governor and finding it necessary to defend his position on underage drinking.

The larger question, as commentators have pointed out, is what steps society is taking to make sure young people learn to drink responsibly.

Source: The Washington Post, "Douglas Gansler's 'Beach Week" misstep highlights hyprocrisy over legal drinking age," Robert McCartney, Nov. 2, 2013

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