June 8, 2010

Teens need to wake up to the perils of driving drunk

“Underage drinking is our nation’s No. 1 youth drug problem, killing 6.5 times more youth than all illicit drugs combined,” reads a National Academy of Sciences report from 2003. The report was apparently praised by members of Congress and advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for bringing underage drinking and driving to the forefront of the federal public health agenda. Yet seven years later, after all the fireworks of public outcry and agitation, the smoke has cleared and there are more teenagers drinking and driving than ever before.

The whole debate about driving under the influence (DUI) — whether penalties are too harsh, drunken driving is morally wrong — stirred my memory recently when I watched a DUI trial in Gunn High School’s Little Theater. The Santa Clara County Superior Court and Gunn law teacher Patricia Bruegger had arranged for the case, People v. Alexandra Taylor, to be held on campus for an educational experience for about 100 Gunn students, interested community members and the press.

There were all of the formalities of a typical courthouse trial, from a judge to a bailiff to evidence exhibits, but there was something very different about this trial: concerned students were actively involved and even engrossed, taking notes and listening closely to every argument, testimony and judicial instruction. There was even a mock jury of 12 students who rendered a “guilty” verdict after Judge Peter

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