Today’s high school students have been hearing about the dangers of alcohol abuse their whole lives, yet they’re growing up in a culture full of binge drinking and drunk driving.
“I think you’re going to see changes in behavior when we see consequences for behavior,” said Whitehall High School senior Lizzie Larsen at an event Friday publicizing increased DUI enforcement in the Helena area over the Halloween weekend. “Education isn’t the answer.”
Larsen is a member of REALITY Check, a group of eight Whitehall seniors who have taken on the issue. They said alcohol is still at the center of social life among their peers on weekends — and other days, too.
“It’s going to take citizens stepping up, stepping forward and demanding changes,” said Lizzie’s father, John Larsen, a science teacher at Whitehall and chairman of the Common Sense Coalition, a group concerned with DUI culture in Montana.
Consequences are coming this weekend for local drunk drivers, said law officers from Jefferson, Butte-Silver Bow and Lewis and Clark counties, the city of Helena and the Montana Highway Patrol, who teamed up Friday to get the word out.
Part of the strategy is not just to catch drunks already driving, but to keep them off the road in the first place by letting them know about the extra patrols. Increasing the perceived risk of arrest changes behavior for the better, the thinking goes.
The officers and students also spoke up for tougher DUI laws in the upcoming legislative session. Lizzie Larsen and Bailey Dueck, another Whitehall senior, have spoken at the Legislature in favor of tougher laws, including stricter penalties for being a minor in possession of alcohol. They’d like to see the loss of a driver’s license until age 18 for kids convicted of drug or alcohol crimes, figuring that’s the kind of consequence that might have some impact.
They figure they’ll be back again testifying in the upcoming session.
John Larsen would also like to see laws like mandatory usage of an ignition interlock device for first-time DUI offenders, to prevent second offenses; the criminalization of a refusal to submit to DUI breath or blood test; education for alcohol servers; and increased alcohol taxes.
Also speaking at the event Friday were Lewis and Clark Sheriff Leo Dutton, Montana City Grill and Saloon owner Chris Rehor and Frank Rozan, member of the Butte-Silver Bow DUI Task Force.
Sanjay Talwani writes for the Inidependent Record.