Keep graduation celebrations free of alcohol

It is hard to believe that another school year is drawing to a close. With that, parents and seniors around the area are busy planning graduation parties to celebrate this chapter of their lives. I would ask that everyone take the time to think about what kind of party they want to have for their graduate.

As a parent, we need to be mindful of the examples we are setting for the graduates and other young people that will be attending our parties. Our words speak softly and our actions speak volumes.

A few weeks ago a group of students from Fort Dodge Senior High and St. Edmond High schools wanted to do something to make students think about their actions and the consequences of making poor choices when deciding if they are going to drink and then drive or ride in a vehicle that is driven by someone who has been drinking. Students from both high schools came together and planned a mock alcohol-related accident and funeral service for the mock victims of this accident. These students did not have to plan and put on this assembly. They wanted to because they saw the need to try and get their fellow classmates to think. This assembly allowed students in a safe environment to put themselves in the roles of the different students taking part in this event. They got to see the consequences of poor choices and how many people those choices would effect. The hope of the group was to allow the student body to live through the event without having to experience the events in real life. What an example of character.

We in the law enforcement community worry this time of year that we will get called to an accident scene involving young people from our communities where alcohol is a factor. It is something that all emergency responders carry with them. Here are some facts:

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for all 15- 20-year-olds. In 2010, 1,963 drivers in this age group died in fatal crashes nationwide and an additional 187,000 young drivers were injured in vehicle crashes. when you look at these crashes, alcohol becomes an increasingly significant factor.

In 2010, 30 percent of young drivers ages 15-20 who were killed in crashes had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .01 or higher.

Young males are more likely to be involved in these fatal crashes than females.

Drivers who have been drinking are less likely to use restraints.

In 2010, 56 percent of the young drivers involved in fatal crashes who had been drinking were using their seat belts.

Of the crashes involving young drivers who had been drinking and were killed in the crashes, 71 percent were unrestrained.

In 2011, Iowa had 64 people killed in alcohol related deaths.

Of that number, 54 were age 20 or younger according to data supplied by the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau.

It is important to think about what could happen if someone leaves your party after they have been drinking alcohol that was provided by you. If they are involved in a crash, your world could and will come crashing down on you. You are going to have to live with guilt that someone you know, a friend of your son or daughter, has been injured or killed as a result of your actions of providing alcohol. Your life is going to change. By providing alcohol to a minor you are contributing to the delinquency of a minor. This violation could result in a serious misdemeanor charge being filed against you which is punishable by a minimum fine of $500 Iowa Code 123.47 (4). If your actions of providing alcohol to a minor results in the death of any person, you could be charged with a Class D felony, Iowa Code 123.47 (6). You could also be held civilly liable under social hosting for intoxicated minors under section 123.47.

As parents, we are the guardians of our communities’ greatest assets. We need to make this time of year as safe as we can. That starts with the kind of party we are going to have to celebrate our sons and daughters accomplishments. The consumption of alcohol by our youths is not a “rite of passage” that they will outgrow. The tragic reality is that drinking is dangerous and often deadly for young people. If we continue to view it as such, the passage may be to an emergency room or even the morgue. Traffic crashes continue to be the leading cause of death for our states’ young people. If we as parents and as a society continue to turn a blind eye to this problem, how many more young people will be hurt or killed? How many families will be affected? Parents, our students have set the stage. Now it is our turn. It is time that we lead by example. We know that an alcohol-free graduation party is the right thing to do. We owe it to them.

Kevin Doty is assistant chief of the Fort Dodge Police Department.