Illinois Law Allows License Suspensions without DUI
By: Mary Ann Pekara
Illinois has a new alcohol-related law that has led to more than 3,000 teenagers losing their driver's licenses this year. The teens were not accused of DUI, but the "use-lose" law allows for driver's license suspensions for those caught underage drinking.
The state law was passed after five teens died last year in an alcohol-related crash. Underage drinkers in Illinois may have their driver's licenses suspended without any involvement with a car or driving.
The Chicago Tribune reported that experts have mixed feelings about the new law because of inconsistencies in enforcement. Many police departments reportedly ignore the new law or only use it to punish repeat offenders because of disagreements over whether driving privileges should be tied to non-driving alcohol offenses.
Supporters of the law say that disparities in enforcement of the use-lose law only serves to reinforce mixed messages that parents give teens when they downplay the risks of alcohol use.
Mundelein Police Chief Raymond Rose, co-chairman of the Lake County Underage Drinking Prevention Task Force, says that the dangers of alcohol consumption are not limited to driving. He says that alcohol abuse by teens can cause brain damage, lead to alcoholism and contribute to kids dropping out of school.
The law dictates that people under the legal drinking age of 21 will lose their driving privileges if they are found guilty or granted court supervision for violations of laws regarding consumption, possession or purchase of alcohol, regardless of whether a vehicle is involved in the offense. First-time offenders lose their driver's licenses for three months under the law.
The most drivers' license suspensions under the new law have been in Lake County. From January 1 to October 15, 2008, 370 teens in the county lost their driving privileges. In DuPage County, there have been 358 suspensions, and in McHenry County, there were 230 suspensions during this time period.
In Will County, only 76 teen license suspensions were reported, and in Cook County, only 60.
Officials Limit Enforcement of the Lose-Use Law
Some law enforcement officials say that they'd rather handle their own underage alcohol-related offenses rather than charging first-time offenders under the use-lose law. In these cases, the teens are sent to a local administrative hearing and pay a fine to the city, but avoid driver's license suspensions.
However, according to Brenda Glahn, a lawyer in the secretary of state's office, all towns are required to report underage alcohol violations to the state, even if they opt for local administrative hearings. This can mean that the teens have their driver's licenses suspended even after paying a local fine and effectively be punished twice for the same offense.
In college towns such as Normal and Champaign, and also in Chicago, municipalities allow underage offenders to pay a fine at the local level. Officials say that the liquor commissioner does not usually forward records of these offenses to the state. In these towns, offenders are only referred to a state circuit court and risk license suspension if they fail to pay fines or return as repeat offenders.
Janet Williams, co-chairwoman of the Illinois Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking, criticizes the law and says that children are victims of the alcohol industry because beverage companies market their products to children.
Williams says that legislation to stop the marketing of alcohol to kids would be more effective than the use-lose law. And she may have a point - little research has been done to show if penalties for teens found guilty of alcohol offenses are effective in preventing underage drinking.
This law may have put the cart before the horse, and is likely to be the subject of further debate and controversy in Illinois.