Ben Franklin said that there are only two things certain in life: death and taxes. Will Rogers added that the difference was that death didn’t get any worse every time Congress met.
But, to be serious for a moment, I have almost come to believe that we can add our tolerance of drunk drivers to the list of things that never change. Oh, I know there are laws against it and there can be punishment (often mild), but the remedies are not working. I am particularly concerned by the all too frequent reports of teenage drunk drivers and the resulting accidents, which is tied into the whole problem of underage drinking. Is there a way to reduce it? Just maybe. And the answer might rest with the business community.
I know that alcohol is a legal product and, when used responsibly, is not a problem. And I know that most drunk drivers are over 21. But, alcohol is not a legal product for those under 21and for good reason. They have a minimum of experience driving and even less drinking, so mixing the two can be lethal. We’ll probably never know what could cause an otherwise bright, ambitious high school student, often with a promising future ahead of them, to self medicate with a substance that diminishes their judgment and delays their reaction time, climb behind the wheel of a car or SUV impaired and enter the most dangerous stretch of territory in America: a public highway. But, we know the results and we know it destroys lives.
The scourge of underage drinking, with all its attendant and devastating consequences, has captured the attention of one of our state’s most effective organizations, The Council on Alcohol and Drugs. The Council is a 36-year old non-profit agency and an affiliate organization of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. You probably know it best for its remarkably successful “Drugs Don’t Work” program, which today is operating in more than 7,000 drug free workplaces in our state, representing 855,000 drug free employees, the largest in the nation. Few programs I know of have been as successful at accomplishing its mission. Earlier this year, the Council helped pass a new law allowing oral fluid testing, making it easier and less expensive to test for drug usage.
According to Chuck Wade, president and CEO of the council, most heavy drinkers of all ages are in the workforce. This includes a lot of young people who use their full- or part-time employment as a source of income, primary or discretionary. While on the job, these young people are exposed to and influenced by older adults who drink and who often will purchase or otherwise provide alcohol to them.
Wade believes that employers — the business community — might hold the key to reducing underage drinking. His solution is workplace intervention programming. Not a clinical intervention, but an intelligent, systematic, fact-based, non-preachy awareness program, totally different from what might be offered in school. Teen drinkers are not stupid and they are not lazy bums. Many work and make college-eligible grades. Their failing is that they are young, inexperienced, often easily influenced and desperate to be accepted by their peers, any one of which can be a portal to alcohol use and abuse.
If the workplace message gets through to just one young person and prevents them from making a deadly mistake, it would be worth the effort. But, the benefits to business for reducing underage drinking are also considerable. Alcohol use and abuse results in accidents, lost productivity and worker turnover. An excellent Web site exists that demonstrates how much alcohol abuse at work costs American businesses. I recommend it to all employers (www.alcoholcostcalculator.org/business).
Finally, this is a way that businessmen and women can truly make a difference in the lives of people they know and some they don’t know. No business owner would want one of their young employees to die needlessly or be responsible for an accident that killed or injured innocent people. In addition, many business owners have teenagers of their own who may be employed elsewhere and they would want their children to have the benefit of this program.
I expect Chuck Wade will find a way to make this idea a reality, probably in the form of new legislation. It will be pro-business, similar to what he has proposed for alcohol retailers, restaurants and bars, whereby they would get a discount on their Dram Shop Liability Insurance premium for attending “Responsible Alcohol Sales and Service” training. The Georgia Council on Alcohol and Drugs is the only agency of its kind in the nation that seeks a solution to drug and alcohol abuse from a business perspective. So, while it has been instrumental in changing lives, it has never advocated punitive legislation against business.
We’re lucky to have The Council on Alcohol and Drugs in Georgia and you should know more about it. I recommend you start at www.livedrugfree.org.
George Israel is the president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.