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Prom & grad parties:

Keeping safe choices under your control

safety during graduation season

As the school year winds down, prom and graduation parties get planned. While it’s an exciting time of year, part of the party planning must be a conversation with your teen about impaired driving and safe choices.  As a parent, it is important that you understand your exposure to financial liability for events that occur both on your property and after a guest leaves, as well as the ramifications for your child should they engage in underage impaired driving.


Underage Drinking & Driving


Since the 1980s, most states introduced zero tolerance laws due to an increase in accidents and deaths relating to teen drinking and driving. A driver under 21 years of age can be arrested for Operating a Motor Vehicle After Having Consumed Alcohol (New York State VTL § 1192-a) after just one drink (0.02 % compared to 0.07 % for an adult). An adjudication results in a six (6) month suspension of your New York driver’s license/privilege. A “Zero Tolerance” disposition is a civil administrative proceeding handled by a Department of Motor Vehicles Hearing Officer.  If the underage driver’s Blood Alcohol Content is 0.07% or higher, the matter is handled in the local criminal court and a conviction results in a one-year license revocation.    


Possible punishments for underage drinking and driving often include community service and prevention education classes.  If the driver injures or kills someone in an accident, however, they face a felony charge and jail time. While some think the laws are overly strict, zero-tolerance laws have proven to be an effective sanction for minors. Since being implemented, the rate of teenage deaths and injuries in automobile accidents has gone down. Alcohol-related automobile accidents are higher for drivers between the ages of 16-20 than it is for adults over the age of 21.


Outside of criminal and civil penalties, teens convicted of a Misdemeanor Driving While Intoxicated or Impaired by Drugs MUST disclose this on their college applications. A criminal conviction can affect admission to college programs, financial aid, and certain post graduate licensing requirements.  In this competitive economy, a criminal conviction will likely prevent an employer from hiring you over another candidate.  Incarceration can lead to termination of employment and loss of student housing. 


When you plan which party you are going to, part of the plan has to be how will I get home. The ramifications for consuming alcohol or drugs and then driving is simply not worth it.


Hosting a graduation or summer party for your teen

Parents choose to host their child’s party at home for a variety of reasons. Typically, convenience is the main reason. Some parents believe that they can monitor safety and maintain control by taking the car keys from all the kids when alcohol for adults is offered at these parties. Given the eclectic mix of family and friends, it is near impossible to monitor who has access to the alcohol. Even hosting a “dry” event does not protect you if you become aware that kids brought alcohol to your home.

If someone gets accidentally injured or worse, physically or sexually assaulted by someone at your party, you can be liable. Claiming they were not invited will not save you either. Even if an incident occurs at another location, you can potentially be financially liable for damages if they left your home impaired by alcohol or drugs.  Talk to your insurance agent about your policy limits before you take on the risk of a home party.  Make sure to have a family plan in place to protect your greatest asset – your home.    

Even those of us with “good” kids can end up in a situation that quickly grows out of control when half the school class suddenly shows up at your party as they make the rounds around town. From the teen who jumps from the second story into the pool and injures himself or others, to the fatal car crash that occurs after a driver leaves your house, and everything in between, hosting a party makes you responsible for everyone and everything at your home.

Jessica Segal of SRDD Law implores us to talk openly with your teen about the risks and consequences the entire family faces. Ask family and friends to take turns watching teen guests for signs of alcohol or drug consumption. Don’t be afraid to call a teen’s parents if you become aware they are under the influence – being the “cool parent” doesn’t save lives. Getting ‘grounded’ is much better than ending up in the middle of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit or dead.


Jessica Segal is an attorney at Stenger, Roberts, Davis & Diamond, LLP (SRDD Law). She has been practicing law for 18 years. She spent 17 years at the Dutchess County District Attorney’s office where she prosecuted all levels of crime. 

Jessica is a volunteer member of the Council on Addiction Prevention & Education of Dutchess County and speaks to high school students and their parents at the annual Teen Driving Program.

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