Too often, people purchasing wine, beer or liquor are either not asked for their licenses or their young age is overlooked. And most often the people selling alcohol to underage buyers are lower level employees, not the owners of an establishment.
That’s a sign businesses can do more to educate their workers and, if they haven’t already, bring strong consequences for violations.
Aroostook County Sheriff James Madore said he knows of instances when a store employee has looked at the driver’s license of a person younger than 21 and still sold that person alcohol. Other times, cashiers have overridden the store’s system that automatically alerts them when a scanned driver’s license reveals a liquor law violation.
Many store employees are trained, ask for identification, confiscate fake IDs and report underage buyers, but a significant number still don’t make an effort.
Recently 40 percent of establishments checked in Aroostook County failed to follow the drinking-age law. Of 33 places checked for liquor law compliance, 13 were summoned for violations. Inspections last year in March 2011 revealed a similar problem: 23 out of 43 businesses in The County — more than 50 percent — sold alcohol to minors.
While many police officers understandably regret the loss of the Bureau of Liquor Enforcement, which handed over compliance enforcement to sheriff’s offices when it ceased operating in 2003, there’s no sign it’s going to return. Officers will likely continue to rely on grant funding to limit youth access to alcohol, as departments often don’t have budgets large enough to pay police for the additional tasks.
That’s why it’s essential for business owners to show leadership, as allowing a minor under 21 to buy alcohol is not just illegal and a threat to the business’ liquor license, it’s also a safety issue.
Teens face a greater risk of dying in an alcohol-related crash than the general population even though they are below the minimum drinking age, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Thirty-one percent of 15- to 20-year-old drivers killed in crashes in 2006 had been drinking.
With high school graduation parties nearing, businesses can do everyone a favor and check — and actually pay attention to — customers’ IDs. We suspect store and restaurant owners want their employees to follow the law. They can do better and make sure it happens.