ZERO TOLERANCE MEANS EXACTLY WHAT IT SAYS

October 15, 2001 12:00 am

Youth under 21 are big on driving. Its something new and different and fun. And driving as a right and privilege is deeply engrained in the fabric of American life. Those privileges can be lost in a hurry, however, if alcohol is mixed into the equation.

Thats because Oregon is a zero-tolerance state when it comes to minors and alcohol. That means it is against the law for anyone under 21 to drink or be in possession of alcohol. If youth fail to show up for their minor-in-possession hearings, they lose their driving privileges. Period. End of discussion. Its part of being personally accountable for ones actions.

Parents can play a role in keeping youth under 21 from drinking. Research shows youth from families with clear rules and standards about drinking are less apt to have consumed alcohol than their peers from families with less strict, or unspoken, rules.

Sure, minors and alcohol have been a problem for generations. Why be concerned? Because binge drinking, which youth might engage in, causes holes in the brain, research shows. The earlier children begin drinking, the more apt they are to become alcoholics.

Its also important to remember that drinking rapidly erodes a drivers judgment. Many innocent lives are exposed to danger when a driver hits the highways drunk. Every 15 minutes in America someone dies in a drunken-driving accident.

Families need to come together and talk and listen to one another. Being a parent is not easy. Parents should explain the rules to their children. Be strict. Be clear. Forget for a moment all the gray areas. Say it in black and white. Children may not immediately appreciate the importance of this kind of discipline. But in the long run a child with a well-developed conscience will see that his parents were doing the best job they could to prevent tragedy and give the child a hand up.

GIVE 'EM A BRAKE

Its that time of year again. Lots of children are walking to school, its cloudy, dark maybe, and youngsters are hard for drivers to see. Drivers should take extra time to be sure kids get to school safely. Make sure to stop at crosswalks. Drive defensively. Expect children to do the unexpected.

Parents can help too by making sure their kids wear bright clothing. Sometimes reflectors help. By slowing down a bit on the commute to work, drivers might end up saving a life.

As Pearl S. Buck said, The test of civilization is the way it cares for its helpless members. Children, of course, are not entirely helpless, but drivers can contribute to making society more civil by giving them a brake.

GIVE THANKS FOR DIVERSITY

Think about it. There would be no song God Bless America without the Russian immigrant Irving Berlin. As America pulls together after the tragic terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, we should give thanks for the diversity of people that makes America strong.