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Report finds drop in drinking among young teens in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup has identified a significant drop in alcohol use among young people ages 12 to 17. The researchers looked at data about drinking, drunk driving accidents and arrests for alcohol offenses. Between 2011 and 2015, alcohol consumption among this age group dropped by a minimum of 18 percent.

The workgroup surveyed young people about their alcohol use for the previous 30 days. Researchers collected additional information about vehicle crashes that involved underage drinkers from 2010 to 2016. These accidents declined sharply by 41 percent during that period. Criminal records from those same years about arrests produced a similar decline of 39 percent for driving under the influence or public intoxication. Arrests for other alcohol offenses among young teenagers went down by 60 percent.

The chairman of the workgroup said that the findings will serve as a baseline so that the effects of Act 39 can be evaluated long term. Starting in 2017, that state law loosened alcohol licensing in the state to enable to-go sales of wine at restaurants and convenience stores. Future studies might reveal whether the changes to alcohol laws will have a positive, negative or neutral impact on teen drinking.

Although society, and especially younger people, may be drinking more responsibly, drunk driving remains a common criminal offense. Both juveniles and adults have a right to legal counsel when confronted by drunk driving charges. In some cases, people under the age of 18 who have been charged with DUI can be tried as an adult, such as if people were severely or fatally injured in a resulting crash, which makes having the assistance of a defense attorney important.

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