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Apr-23-2008 17:33TweetFollow @OregonNews
Lawmakers Crack the Whip on Young Oregon Drivers for Unrelated MistakesTim King Salem-News.com
Lawmakers raised during more tolerant years, say nobody caught drinking will drive until they're 21, and that their plan will save lives.
(SALEM, Ore.) - The state DMV says Oregon's adult citizens under age 21 should think twice about drinking alcohol. As of January 1st, they can lose their driver licenses without even getting into a car if they have any type of alcohol violation.
Oregon judges can now suspend the driving privileges of anyone between the ages of 18 to 20, who is convicted of possession, use or abuse of alcohol.
The new law passed by the 2007 Oregon Legislature allows courts to deny the driving privileges of residents if they have had any contact with police over drinking, even at a private party.
"The punishment does not fit the crime," one Oregon mother who talked to Salem-News.com said.
"This type of thing encourages people to break the law because if they didn't commit a driving infraction, then at least they had the sense to not drive. Kids in this age group are coming home in caskets from Iraq, but Oregon thinks they can over regulate success? It just isn't realistic at all."
According to records at Driver and Motor Vehicles, there were 948 court denials of driving privileges for drug and alcohol violations during the first three months of 2008. During the first three months of 2007, there were 596.
"Court denials from drug and alcohol convictions have nearly doubled so far this year, and the 18 - 20 year old age group seems to be accounting for this increase," said Bill Merrill, the DMV’s Driver Control Team manager.
"Even if an individual doesn’t have a driver license or instruction permit, a suspension is still placed on the driver record." That means he or she is ineligible to apply for driving privileges.
Here is the data provided by the DMV:
Through March 31st, the DMV recorded the following for people age 18 to 20:
* Processed 362 suspensions. (74 of the suspensions were repeat offenders.)
* Suspended 305 individuals.
* Implied consent or Blood Alcohol Content failure suspensions (not necessarily from the same incident): 26 individuals. (They say one individual was a 20-year-old who received his seventh court denial, and one individual was a 19-year old who received his fifth court denial.)
* Half of the court denials suspensions processed since January 1st, 2008 were for the 18 to 20-year old age group.
"It’s important to understand that you don't have to be caught drinking and driving to lose your driving privileges," Bill Merril said. "If you're under 21 and drinking in a local park that you walked to with your friends, you'll still lose your driving privileges."
But Crystal Young, a Salem mom, said taking away a person's ability to drive to work will not help anyone in the end. "People can't do anything without a drivers license, this just stunts their growth as a human being. You can't even ride a bus every day of the week here, the public transportation is lacking."
The Oregon mom quoted earlier who preferred not to have her name used, said that if they expect people to be part of the workforce, they at least have the expectation judges should have the option be granted a work license.
"If they educated each and every young person as to what they risk is before they went to a party, that would be one thing. Otherwise this punishment is after the fact, how will it deter them?"
The purpose of the law is twofold, according to the DMV: to discourage underage drinking and to help prevent driving under the influence of intoxicants.
"Driving under the influence is one of the top three factors in traffic fatalities in Oregon," said Gretchen McKenzie, Impaired Driving Program coordinator for the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Safety Division.
"And because new drivers are at higher risk for crashes than other age groups due to lack of experience, adding intoxication to that is a dangerous combination."
Oregon admits that it may be some time before the actual safety benefits of the new law can be measured.
The DMV sees it as one more tool that will cause people to comply with the state's driving laws, and they say it will coincide with 30 full days of driving awareness here slated to begin next month.
"This is good news on the eve of Transportation Safety Month in Oregon, coming up in May," McKenzie said.
"But laws don’t physically prevent people from making unsafe choices. Individuals are still responsible for what they do. Suspensions and traffic fines discourage unsafe driving, but family and friends can play a huge role in encouraging safe choices."
McKenzie says the new law, which went into effect January 1st, does give judges a new tool to use in encouraging minors not to drink or possess alcohol, and records show they are using it.
Other Oregonians say they see it as yet another way to restrict life for young people that will in turn, just cause them to get in more trouble.
It is true that politicians often only see things in black and white terms and in numbers. It is also true that a great degree of tolerance existed in previous years toward youth who drank at parties but didn't get behind the wheel. Those are the years during which most of these lawmakers were raised.
It seems safe to conclude that their motivations are ultimately, to save more lives. Indeed, it is an age when fear rules and we trade our liberties in for alleged security by the handful, not just nationally, but locally as well.
The Oregon mom who preferred to not be named, concluded her interview with us by saying, "This is not the America I was raised with, it isn't the same place."
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