As a law firm for Panama City drunk driving victims, and as citizens of Northwest Florida, we applaud the work of the Florida Sheriff's Task Force in Operation Dry Spring, an initiative aimed at lowering the number of young people involved in emergencies associated with underage drinking and the use of synthetic drugs. The News Herald reports that the statewide task force led to more than 5,000 arrests and allowed police to seize more than 18,500 grams of narcotics.
37 counties took part in Operation Dry Spring, which ran from March 4 to April 7, with Bay County posting the highest number of arrests at more than 1,800. Major Tommy Ford notes that Spring Break safety in Bay County involves the Sheriff's Office, the Florida Highway Patrol, the Panama City Beach Police Department, and the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. While the latter usually takes the lead on underage possession of alcohol charges, Ford noted that in Bay County the troopers focused on traffic enforcement, and ABT concentrated on underage drinkers. He added that the BCSO and the PCBPD "focused on the general mayhem." Ford cited the dedication of all the agencies and the head-on approach as contributing the Bay County leading the state in charges filed during the operation.
It's a question asked at least once by almost every American teenager - why 21? Mothers Against Drunk Driving tackles the issue in a series of articles on the group's website. Interestingly, history shows that most states had a minimum drinking age of 21 before a movement in the late 60s and 70s led to 29 states lowering the drinking age to more closely match the newly-reduced voting and military enlistment ages. Almost immediately, according to MADD's research, drunk driving crashes and deaths related to alcohol use rose in those states and in border-areas (dubbed "blood borders") where young people drove across state borders to drink and then crashed on the return trip to a higher-age state. More than half of the states, a total of 16, returned to a drinking age of 21 by 1983. A federal effort followed with legislation in 1984 leading to all states signing on to a drinking age of 21 by 1988.
Has 21 worked? The National Highway Safety Administration estimates that the return to a 21-year minimum has saved 900 lives per year, resulting in more than 25,000 lives saved since the across-the-board adoption of a drinking age of 21. Other studies show that underage drinking rates have fallen. Since 1991, the use of alcohol has fallen 45% among 8th graders, 30% among 10th graders, and 18% among 12th graders. Research also negates the suggestion that lowering the drinking age would make it less attractive to teens (the "forbidden fruit" theory), with studies showing young people drank more under an age 18 minimum. Another statistic found underage drivers were involved in more than twice as many fatal crashes prior to the universal adoption of the 21 minimum. MADD also notes that alcohol is particularly harmful to teenage brains, so drinking as a teenager increases a person's risk for alcoholism.
There is a lot more to say about underage drinking, and it is an issue we will revisit. MADD's research into the 21-year-old minimum age supports both the existence and the enforcement of our current drinking age. We applaud the law enforcement teams for their work on Operation Dry Spring, work that research affirms is important to the safety of teens and of our community as a whole.
If you have been the victim of an accident caused by underage drinking in the Florida Panhandle region, or if you lost a loved one in a similar tragedy, please call our firm. Attorney Pittman is an experienced Panama City injury lawyer, and his team can help you file a civil claim and recover crucial monetary damages that will help you move forward from unexpected tragedy.