WVU and Monongalia County Sheriff’s office team up to fight underage drinking

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The party is over for those who decide to drink and drive, in part to the new Zero Tolerance Driving Initiative that promises to take the party “From Bumpin’ to Buzz Kill at the Speed of Light.”

The initiative, led by the West Virginia University School of Public Health and in partnership with Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department, targets impaired drivers with an increased focus on drivers under the age of 21 in effort to make our community safer.

West Virginia, along with every state in the country, enforces Zero Tolerance (ZT) laws. These laws assert that individuals under the age of 21 cannot drink any amount of alcohol and drive; following the consumption of just one drink, minors can be cited with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .02 or above for violating the ZT law regardless of whether or not they appear physically impaired.

“Since Morgantown is a college town, a large part of the population is under 21 so underage drinking is a common behavior,” said Keith Zullig, Ph.D., interim chair of the WVU Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “Underage drinking of course can lead to impaired driving, and we know that even at low alcohol levels, young drinking drivers are at a much higher risk for getting into a crash. This is why researchers need to learn what intervention models work best to deter young adults from making dangerous decisions like this.”

Alcohol-related crash injury is one of the greatest health risks facing underage drinkers, yet there is little research on enforcement models developed specifically to deter youth from drinking and driving. The findings of this project will both help build an understanding of how youth perceive enforcement and develop future sustainable interventions for drinking and driving in other communities.

The enforcement effort for the initiative will include increased sobriety checkpoints focused on underage drinking drivers, along with a new enforcement tool for Morgantown police - Passive Alcohol Sensor technology. These sensors have been built into standard police flashlights and test the air in front of a driver’s face as they exhale to detect recent alcohol consumption. The flashlights, referred to as “Buzzkill Flashlights” are an additional tool to help detect drinking drivers by prompting officers to ask the driver more questions or to conduct sobriety tests.

“It’s a mistake for young people to think that underage drinking and driving is an accepted standard in Morgantown,” Sergeant John Kisner said. “These flashlights can detect even low levels of alcohol on the breath.”

Lova Jaros, program manager of the study, said spreading awareness of the initiative is crucial to the success of the project.

“In order to have an impact on our target audience of 16-20 year olds, the campaign’s messaging is in their language and is viewed through their media sources so hopefully it will resonate and start to change the norm,” Jaros said.

WVU received $755,558 for the five-year project from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an agency under the National Institutes of Health. It is being implemented by the university’s School of Public Health as the sub grantee to the prime-grantee, The Pacific Institute for Research & Evaluation (PIRE), located in Calverton, Md.

For more information on the Zero Tolerance Driving Initiative, contact Sgt. John Kisner of the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department at 304-291-7260 or visit www.ZeroToleranceDriving.org.
For more information: Amy Johns, HSC Director of Public Affairs, 304-293-7087
lj: 08-31-12