Graphic of cover for Community How To Guide On Public Policy


Community How To Guide On…PUBLIC POLICY

Guidelines for Advocacy

Six C’s of Effective Advocacy

Techniques for Effective Public Policy Change

Tools of Public Policy Change

Other Public Policy Opportunities

Underage Drinking Laws and Regulations

Advocacy Efforts With Public Institutions

Successful Public Policy Initiatives



Appendix #1 – Public Policy Message Development Sheet

Appendix #2 – Elected Official Inventory Form

Appendix #3 – Sample Letter

Appendix #4 – Sample Telephone Script

Appendix #5 – Underage Drinking Laws and Regulations Checklist

Appendix #6 – Suggested Model Underage Drinking Laws

Appendix #7 – Fact Sheet-Minimum Drinking Age Laws

Appendix #8 – State-by-State Legislative Status Report


Resources Cited in Community How To Guide

Other Public Policy Resources


Targeting public policy is a necessary part of a successful underage drinking prevention effort. This “Community How To Guide on Public Policy” details how coalitions and organizations can effectively work to change public policies that impact underage drinking. The booklet first explains the elements of public policy including laws, regulations, and the policies and practices of public institutions. Tips are provided on effective ways to impact each of these elements so that a clear, consistent message can be delivered throughout the community on the dangers of underage drinking.

Because changing laws and regulations are often viewed by many people as a difficult and daunting task, the booklet provides the tools communities can use in dealing with the legislative process at either the federal, state or local level. To clear up any confusion regarding an organization’s involvement in this process, guidelines are given on what is and what is not allowed. To help coalitions and organizations get started, the booklet gives examples of opportunities that can jump start a public policy initiative.

The appendix of the booklet also gives a variety of useful tools that can help communities first determine what kind of public policy initiative they need. A checklist on underage drinking laws and regulations can quickly tell an organization where improvement is needed. An Elected Official Inventory form will enable every member of the coalition to know who represents them in Congress, in state government and at the local level. Samples of letters and a telephone script are provided to assist groups in launching their public policy program and a state-by-state legislative status report will tell them how their state compares with the other 49 states and the District of Columbia.

Community How To Guide On…PUBLIC POLICY

Coalitions offer special opportunities for individuals and organizations to come together and work for public policy change. Those changes often are critical to the success of the organization and its mission. One of the reasons there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities is the passage of tougher anti-drunk driving laws in response to efforts by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID), and other groups. Underage drinking prevention coalitions and organizations can follow this example and reduce the serious consequences of underage drinking by working to pass tougher laws and regulations at the federal, state and local level.

Public policy includes the following:

This booklet deals mainly with legislative policies. However, all of the suggestions and information also apply to a coalition’s efforts to strengthen or change a regulation, modify the policy of a public agency or institution, or alter alcohol advertising practices in public places.

Guidelines on Advocacy

Public policy change is an integral part of a comprehensive underage drinking prevention program because it directly impacts public attitudes and behavior. As a result organizations will find themselves working on public policy issues related to legislation. There are, however, certain restrictions on legislative activity that apply to the following:

These restrictions refer to what is called “lobbying, ” which is a form of advocacy. These restrictions do not prohibit an organization from engaging in advocacy efforts. Rather they limit or restrict the amount and type of funding that can be used to pay for advocacy efforts.

Restrictions Covering Not-for-Profit Organizations with Tax-Exempt Status

The information in this section is taken, in part, from “Guidelines for Advocacy: Changing Policies & Laws to Create a Safe Environment for Youth,” published by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA).

In exchange for the tax exemption, organizations that qualify for the IRS 501(c)(3) status must comply with certain rules and regulations, including limiting the amount of money they spend on lobbying. The rules and regulations do not prohibit lobbying, but rather view the tax exemption as a type of government subsidy, which the IRS says cannot be used to influence government policy.

The IRS defines lobbying in two ways: direct lobbying and grassroots lobbying. Direct lobbying involves the following:

The two required elements for the advocacy to be considered lobbying are the following:

The IRS regulations also focus on grassroots lobbying, which is defined as attempts to influence legislation by affecting the opinions of the general public or any segment thereof. As with direct lobbying, grassroots lobbying must do the following:

The IRS describes a call to action as:

For instance, it would be grassroots lobbying if the organization writes a letter to the membership asking them to call or write their legislator’s office indicating their support for H.B. (House Bill) 105, a bill to increase penalties on retailers who sell to underage youth. This action would constitute grassroots lobbying because the letter refers to specific legislation, reflects a specific view on the legislation, and encourages the member to take action by calling or writing their legislator.

Under the IRS 501(h) expenditure test, organizations can spend the following on direct lobbying:

20% of the first $500,000 of their tax-exempt expenditures
15% of the next $500,000
10% of the next $500,000
5% of all remaining exempt expenditures up to a total limit of $1 million

In addition, the section limits the organization to spending no more than 25% on grassroots lobbying.

The IRS rules and regulations do not prohibit direct or grassroots lobbying by non-profit organizations, but rather limit the amount of lobbying in which these organizations can engage. Because the original language was vague and ambiguous, in 1976 the U.S. Congress approved language in the IRS Code — Section 501(h) — which measures lobbying activities based solely on the amount an organization spends. The difficult-to-quantify factors such as volunteer time or “impact” are not covered under the 501(h) section.

Penalties for exceeding the allowable limits on lobbying include an excise tax of 25% on the excess expenditures. Only the organization, not the staff or board members, is held liable under the penalty and the tax exempt status cannot be revoked unless t!e organization exceeds the allowable limits by at least 50% over a four-year period.

Restrictions Covering Organizations that Receive Federal Funds

All Federal Funds (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services, etc.)

Federal law prohibits the use of Federal funds, either directly or indirectly, for the purpose of influencing a member of Congress to favor or oppose legislation, whether or not legislation is currently pending. This restriction prohibits the use of Federal funds for grassroots lobbying.

Federal law also prohibits the use of Federal funds to pay any person for influencing or attempting to influence an employee of an agency or a member, officer or employee of Congress in connection with the awarding, making, entering into, or extending of a Federal contract, grant, or cooperative agreement.

This prohibition covers the direct use of Federal funds and the use of Federal funds through a lower tier agreement, (e.g., Federal monies received by organizations that are sub grantees of a state under Section 402 of the Highway Safety Program). The reasoning behind this prohibition is that Federal money should not be used to lobby Congress in an attempt to insure a steady stream of such funds.

Department of Transportation/NHTSA Funds

Additional lobbying restrictions apply specifically to programs funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The fiscal year 2000 DOT Appropriations Act prohibited the use of DOT funds (including NHTSA funds) for any activity intended “to influence in any manner a Member…of a State legislature to favor or oppose by vote or otherwise, any legislation or appropriation by…a State legislature…after the introduction of any bill or resolution in a State legislature proposing such legislation or appropriation.”

In addition, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21), as amended by the TEA-21 Restoration Act, prohibits the use of NHTSA funds for “any activity specifically designed to urge a State or local legislator to favor or oppose the adoption of any specific legislative proposal pending before any State or local legislative body.” (This latter provision contains an exception allowing testimony for or against pending legislation in response to an invitation from a member of a State or local legislative body or the State executive office.)

There are slight differences in the reach of these two restrictions. However, taken together, they prohibit the use of NHTSA funds for direct lobbying activities and grassroots lobbying activities that specifically target pending State or local legislative bills. They do not apply to State offi-cials engaged in direct communications with their legislatures, under customary practice in the State.

Other Federal agencies may be subject to lobbying restrictions applicable specifically to their programs. Organizations that seek or receive funding from a particular Federal agency should become familiar with any restrictions that might apply funds from to that agency. In addition, there may be specific state or local laws, regulations or ordinances that may apply, and state and local government employees need to be aware of them. Again, these restrictions do not prohibit lobbying, but rather the type of funding that is used to pay for these activities.

The Six “C’s” of Effective Advocacy

In order to change public policy, an organization or coalition must learn to effectively advocate their views. With the proper tools and information, anyone can be an effective advocate. It does not require a lot of money or a highly paid professional to influence public policy. Following are the six “C’s” of effective advocacy.

Be clear

Be consistent

Be concise

Be creative

Members of Project Extra Mile, an underage drinking prevention coalition in Omaha, Nebraska, distributed flyers to legislators on attention-getting acid green paper. The flyers “cut through the clutter” and enabled coalition members sitting in the legislature’s gallery to recognize their own materials when legislators were reading them.

Be convincing

Be committed

Appendix #1 is a Public Policy Message Development Sheet that will assist members of the coalition in developing a brief, clear statement on their public policy goals with supporting facts and anecdotes. Prior to a legislative or other public policy meeting, copy this worksheet and distribute it to all members of the coalition who will be participating. Make it a group exercise to develop a consistent statement.

Techniques for Effective Public Policy Change

Following are some practical techniques for effective public policy change that are neither difficult nor expensive. With a little preparation, common sense, and energy, anyone can join thousands of other citizen advocates who work on behalf of causes.

1. Know who represents you at all levels of government — local, state and federal.

Constituents have special clout with their own elected officials. Do members of your coalition know who represents them in the city/county council, the state legislature and U.S. Congress?

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has a list of every member of the U.S. Congress on their web site. By typing in a zip code, anyone can find out who represents them in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. The National Conference of State Legislatures’ web site has links to the web sites of state legislatures across the country. Most of these sites help individuals determine who represents them at the state level. Information on contacting these organizations, along with their web sites, is located in the Resource Section of this guide.

If the coalition or organization does not have access to the Internet, the local board of elections or electoral commission will be able to provide the same information. The local board’s phone number can be located in the blue pages of the any telephone directory, which is also where individuals can determine representation at the city and county level.

Appendix #2 is an Elected Official Inventory Form that can be reprinted and distributed to members of the coalition so they can obtain information on their elected officials.

Get to know your elected officials by doing the following:

2. Know the legislative process or “how a bill becomes a law.”

The Legislative Structure

Bill is introduced

Committee/Subcommittee Consideration

Vote By Full Legislature

3. Determine if outside influence will help or hinder the effort.

The Maryland Committee for Safety Belt Use was able to work for passage of a primary seat belt law due to the extensive coalition the group put together to assist with the effort. Barbara Beckett, the Committee’s Executive Director, put together a packet of information for every individual and organization in the coalition and then requested they fax back their signed support. A complete list of all supporters with names and phone numbers was then given to all legislators, some of whom even called several organizations to make sure of their support.

4. Understand how public policies and procedures impact underage drinking.

Tools of Public Policy Change

Public policy change depends upon communication. Letter writing, personal meetings and telephone calls are fundamental tools.

Letter Writing

Appendix #3 is a Sample Letter that coalitions and organizations can use for their public policy efforts.

Telephone Calls

Appendix #4 is a Sample Telephone Message that coalitions and organizations can use in their public policy efforts.

Personal Meetings

Maryland House of Delegates member Sheila Hixson tells the classic “how not to do it” story about a personal meeting with a legislator. Mrs. Hixson represented a trade association as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. A critical bill was pending before Congress and she struggled for some time to arrange a personal meeting among members of her trade association and a Congressman whose vote was critical. Mrs. Hixson was delighted that she had been able to arrange a 15-minute meeting, because 10 minutes is more common.

Shortly after she and her group sat down with the Congressman, one of the trade association members said to the legislator, “You know, I’m so angry at you about that tax vote a few weeks ago, no matter what you do, I’ll never vote for you again.” Needless to say, the meeting was effectively over at that moment.


We have all seen news clips of government officials testifying before congressional committees, flanked by their staff or lawyers with massive briefing documents in front of them. Could you testify before a committee, without a staff, lawyers or an enormous briefing book? Yes, citizen advocates and organization representatives can be compelling witnesses before a legislative committee. Following are tips for testifying effectively. These tips also apply to any public presentation, including a school board meeting.

In Maryland, police officers that participated in the Maryland Underage Drinking Prevention Coalition testified before the legislature about the need to change the law governing the use of fake IDs. The provisions were so complex and confusing that officers sometimes did not write citations because they were afraid of using the wrong section of the law and having their citations criticized or thrown out of court. Their testimony resulted in a change in the law.

At another hearing, two young men in recovery spoke to the committee about keg parties, and came away shocked by the legislators’ ignorance of how young people “party.” As one of the young men said, until they heard the testimony, legislators were “clueless.” The boys’ testimony was not only shocking, it was successful. Several legislators later said that they decided to vote for the bill after hearing the young people speak.

Other Public Policy Opportunities

Direct contact and testifying before committees or other public meetings are effective advocacy tools, but they certainly are not the only opportunities to influence a public official’s views.

Involve Public Officials in the Coalition

Use the Media

Other Opportunities

Underage Drinking Laws & Regulations

Following is a list of suggested model laws to reduce underage drinking, prepared by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The list also appears in the appendix of this guide so it can be reproduced and distributed to public officials or coalition members. To develop a public policy advocacy plan, determine which of these laws apply in your state and how effective they are in deterring underage drinking.

In the appendix of this community how to guide are several items to assist coalitions and organizations determine the strengths and weaknesses of their own state’s underage drinking laws and regulations. This information includes:
  • A Checklist of Underage Drinking Laws and Regulations (Appendix #5)
  • Model Underage Drinking Laws (Appendix #6), prepared by Mothers Against Drunk Driving
  • Fact Sheet on Minimum Drinking Age Laws (Appendix #7) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • A state-by-state report on the Legislative Status Report on Drinking and Driving and Underage Drinking Laws and Regulations (Appendix #8)

Other laws affecting underage drinking include the following:

Advocacy Efforts with Public Institutions

Public institutions that deal with youth, such as a school system, college or university, or police department, have established policies that relate to youth. For instance, the policy of the local school system is to prohibit alcohol use on school grounds. However, what is the policy with respect to student athletes who use alcohol off school property and not during a school function? If this alcohol use is brought to the attention of school authorities, are the athletes suspended from playing on the team? If they are not suspended, are other alternatives used or is the young person allowed to continue participating on the team? If the latter is the case, it sends the wrong message to the student population.

As part of the needs assessment process (See Community How To Guide on Needs Assessment and Strategic Planning), an underage coalition should review the practices of public agencies charged with enforcing the law or regulating the sale of alcohol. For instance, even though underage drinking is against the law, the coalition may find juvenile service agencies are diverting most offenders because of an overburdened court system. An effective alternative may be a teen court system, which is described in the “How To Guide on Community Enforcement.”

In the case of the public school system that allows an underage youth who drinks illegally to continue to play on the school’s team because he or she is a star, the advocacy strategy may involve organizing parents and other community leaders to testify at a local school board meeting. Media is also an effective advocacy tool particularly in altering alcohol-advertising practices in public places. In Detroit, MI, a local coalition formed by a member of the City Council, conducted a review of billboard advertisements throughout the city and founded a concentration of alcohol ads in poor neighborhoods. The group publicized their findings, which lead to changes in the placement of the billboards.

Successful Public Policy Initiatives

Maryland Underage Drinking Prevention Coalition

In 1992, the Maryland Underage Drinking Prevention Coalition successfully convinced several state legislators to sponsor legislation to require beer keg registration. The law required liquor licensees who sold kegs of beer to place a label with the name, address and age of the purchaser on the keg, and to keep a copy of the label until the keg was returned. If the keg was found at an underage drinking party, the purchaser could be identified and cited for an underage drinking offense.

Not unexpectedly, members of the alcohol industry strongly opposed the initiative. Faced with a well-known and politically connected adversary, the Coalition decided to mount a two-prong strategy involving both legislative advocacy and media relations.

  1. The organization identified individuals to testify on behalf of keg registration including the following:

  2. The coalition organized an Advocacy Day, which included the following:

    A breakfast for members and their legislators to hear more about the bill. The event gave the coalition an opportunity to educate legislators and distribute materials to group members who would be meeting with their own representatives throughout the day.

    To highlight the coalition’s presence at the state legislature during the day, each coalition member and all supporters wore a bright red sticker with the slogan “Underage Drinking… Put A Cork In It.” The high visibility effort paid off because it distinguished the group from other advocates present that day, and created the impression that the State House was full of advocates for the bill.

    The coalition staged a media rally at a prominent gathering place that would attract notice from legislators going to and from the State Capitol building for votes. Speakers, including state legislators supporting the initiative and members of the coalition, detailed the reasons for the bill and energized the crowd.

    To increase media coverage and emphasize the seriousness of the issue, advocates brought a genuine casket to the rally, along with a keg and a large sign which said, “Too many kegs = too many caskets.” Teens in recovery from alcohol abuse and a group of 6th grade students carried the casket, the keg and the sign during a rally and press event. Every television station from the Washington, DC and Baltimore media markets and several newspapers and radio stations attended the event. The coverage created pressure on legislators and put opponents on the defensive.

    Despite being outgunned by a well funded opponent, the bill passed and was signed into law. Several well placed political experts had predicted that the bill would fail, but the coalition’s determination, organization and ingenuity paid off.

Project Extra Mile

Project Extra Mile in Omaha, Nebraska worked to change the state’s “buy out” provision for alcohol licensees.

Under the law at that time, liquor licensees in the state were allowed to “buy out” of a penalty when they were found to have sold alcohol to minors or intoxicated persons. Instead of facing days of suspension, the license holders simply paid a fine of $50 a day for a first offense or $100 a day for a second or subsequent offense. The average length of a suspension was just four days.

To change legislators’ opinions, members of Project Extra Mile took the following action:

As the central contact, the coalition helped ensure the effort was efficient, organized and effective. Project Extra Mile executive director Diane Riibe says, “We are working together to change the environment for children in our community and help them to grow up healthy and whole.”

Troy Community Coalition

The Troy, Michigan Community Coalition found many young people were stealing alcohol from unsupervised, open display shelves. To correct the problem, the coalition changed a local city ordinance so that hard liquor would be placed in a supervised situation. The change was so successful, it is now being duplicated in other communities. In addition to the open shelf regulation, the coalition successfully advocated to prevent the National Football League from bringing their “Air It Out” event, which was sponsored by Budweiser, to their area. “Air It Out” is a football event that attracts many young people and children and the coalition felt sponsorship by an alcohol company sent the wrong message. As a result of their action, the NFL has changed sponsors. In both cases, the coalition cited the dangerous consequences of underage drinking to justify change.

Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking (ICRUD)

To begin educating members of the state legislature about the issue of underage drinking, members of ICRUD developed a novel approach. Using used beer bottles, the group developed a new label that said, “Be Wiser About Underage Drinking. The facts are sobering—time is running out for Indiana.” On either side of the label, the group included facts such as “Warning: Eight youth die every day in alcohol-related crashes.” and “Ingredients: permanent injury, date rape, alcoholism, billions of dollars in medical costs, violence, unwanted pregnancy, drug addiction and STDs/AIDS.”

Inside the bottle, the group placed a rolled up fact sheet describing the coalition and its legislative goals. Every member of the state legislature received a bottle, which generated a lot of discussion about the effort and ultimately about the issue of underage drinking. The approach educated legislators about the issue before specific legislative proposals were offered. The activity was extremely useful when ICRUD began contacting legislators about specific legislation since the majority remembered the organization and their goals and objectives.


The old maxim says, “You can’t fight City Hall.” Don’t believe it, particularly when it comes to reducing underage drinking. You can “fight” and promote legislative change, whether it is City Hall, the State Capital or the U.S. Congress, if you are a committed advocate.

The keys to successful advocacy are in your heart, your head and your hands. Remember to be: Clear, Concise, Consistent, Committed, Creative, and Convincing.

You can successfully combat opponents who have more money and more staff. You can win votes for your issues. You can be an advocate. Start today!


Appendix 1 -- Public Policy Message Development Sheet

PDF -- Public Policy Message Development Sheet

Appendix 2 -- Elected Official Inventory Form

PDF -- Elected Official Inventory Form

Appendix 3 -- Sample Letter

PDF -- Sample Letter


The Honorable John Doe
Virginia State Senate
910 Capitol Street
Richmond, VA 2319

Dear Senator Doe:

I am writing to ask your support for S.B. 195, a bill that would change state law and remove the exemption that allows youth under age 21 to possess alcohol for employment purposes. In series of reports in 1991, the Surgeon General of the U.S. called these provisions “loopholes” and urged states to change them.

Underage drinking is the nation’s No. 1 drug problem. It kills more than six times as many young people as all other illicit drugs combined. Yet society often condones alcohol use by those under the legal drinking age of 21 as an accepted “rite of passage.”

Virginia is sending youth the wrong message. Underage drinking continues to be a serious problem in our state. According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles in 1997, 29 teens age 15-19 died in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and 1,162 were injured. (Include your own state’s underage drinking facts gathered through the needs assessment process.)
As you may know, our own community of __________________ has suffered the serious consequences of an alcohol-related motor vehicle crash. Just two months ago, two of our teens died because they were drinking and driving. The ___________ Coalition has brought together all segments of the community—youth, parents, law enforcement, educators, the media, the medical and business communities—to develop a comprehensive plan to deal with this problem.

Comprehensive community programs have been successful, but we need your help in strengthening our underage drinking laws. We need to make it clear to our youth that underage drinking is illegal, unhealthy and unacceptable. We hope you agree and will support S.B. 195. Thank your for your consideration and I look forward to hearing your views on this issue.


Jane Smith
Executive Director
The ________ Coalition
112 North Main Street
Arlington, VA 22205

Appendix 4 -- Sample Telephone Script

PDF -- Sample Telephone Script

Good afternoon. My name is Jane Smith and I am Executive Director of the _______________ Coalition, a public/private partnership dedicated to reducing underage drinking in (city), (state).

I am calling to request that Senator Doe support S.B. 195, a bill that would change state law and remove the exemption that allows youth under age 21 to possess alcohol for employment purposes. In a series of reports in 1991, the Surgeon General of the U.S. called these provisions “loopholes” and urged states to change them.

The ___________ coalition has brought together all segments of our community to fight this problem and we hope Senator Doe will join us. I understand the bill is coming up for consideration in the next few days and I would appreciate a letter, that I can share with our coalition, indicating how the Senator voted on the bill.

Thank you for your time. I may be reached at The ______________ Coalition, 112 North Main Street, Arlington, Virginia, 22205. My phone number is 703-123-4567 and my fax number is 703-234-5678.

Appendix 5 -- Underage Drinking Laws and Regulations Checklist

PDF -- Underage Drinking Laws and Regulations Checklist

State: _______________________________________

Yes   No

___  ___ The state has a zero tolerance law for minors and requires license suspension for violations of the zero tolerance law.

___  ___ The state has a use/lose law (Use/lose laws are those which result in a motor vehicle license action for underage drinking offenses, whether nor not they involve a motor vehicle).

___  ___ It is illegal for underage youth to purchase alcohol.

___  ___ It is illegal for youth to attempt to purchase alcohol.

___  ___ It is illegal for youth to possess alcohol.

___  ___ It is illegal for underage youth to consume alcohol.

___  ___ There are no exemptions for underage youth purchasing, possessing or consuming alcohol.
               If no, list the exemptions ___________________________________________

___  ___ Possession or consumption of alcohol by underage youth is not limited to public places.

___  ___ It is illegal for underage youth to use an altered or false identification.

___  ___ The state has an open container law.

___  ___ The state has an anti-consumption law (pertains to motor vehicles) for drivers and passengers.

___  ___ The state has a law against public intoxication.

___  ___ It is illegal to sell alcohol to an underage youth.
               If yes, what is the fine and licensing action ______________________________

___  ___ It is illegal for adults 21 and older to provide alcohol to minors.

___  ___ Adults 21 and older are held responsible for alcohol use by minors.

___  ___ The state has a keg registration law.

___  ___ The state has a dram shop/social host law making the social host liable for any damages, injuries or deaths caused by an underage youth to whom they served alcohol.

Appendix 6 -- Suggested Model Underage Drinking Laws

PDF -- Suggested Model Underage Drinking Laws

The following is a list of model underage drinking laws prepared by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). In conducting a review of existing laws and regulations, communities can refer to this list to determine whether their laws are sufficient.

21 Minimum Drinking Age Law

Makes it unlawful for anyone under the age of 21 years to purchase, attempt to purchase, possess, consume, misrepresent their age to purchase or attempt to purchase or use a fake or false ID.

Use/Lose Law

Applies driver’s license sanctions for driving and non-driving related alcohol offenses.

Zero Tolerance

Establishes a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .02 (or .0.00 or 0.01) for drivers under age 21 as a violation of law in operating a vehicle and requires license suspension for violators.

Adults Providing Alcohol To Minors or Dram Shop (Social Host) Liability Laws

Makes it illegal for any person to sell, furnish or provide any alcoholic beverages to anyone under the age of 21 years (may be lawful for parents to provide alcohol to their children in their home or under certain circumstances, i.e., holidays, religious celebrations).

Graduated Licensing Laws

Establishes a graduated system of licensing that requires young drivers to meet certain standards before obtaining a full license. Some laws may also include prohibitions on the number of passengers and a curfew.

Youth In Alcohol Establishments Laws

Prohibits youth under 21 years from entering an establishment that serves or sells alcohol, also may prohibit youth from working in these establishments or being allowed to sell alcohol.

Keg Registration

Discourages adults from purchasing kegs of beer for youth by requiring the purchaser to provide identification for a label on the keg. The information is maintained by the seller until the keg is returned. This law also discourages youth from using fake IDs to purchase beer kegs.

Appendix 7 -- Fact Sheet, Minimum Drinking Age Laws

PDF -- Fact Sheet, Minimum Drinking Age Laws

What is the national age 21 drinking law?

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 required all states to raise their minimum purchase and public possession of alcohol age to 21. States that did not comply faced a reduction in highway funds under the Federal Highway Aid Act. The U.S. Department of Transportation has determined that all states are in compliance with this act.

The national law specifically requires states to prohibit purchase and public possession of alcoholic beverages. It does not require prohibition of persons under 21 (also called youth or minors) from drinking alcoholic beverages. The term “public possession” is strictly defined and does not apply to possession for the following.

State Issues

Article XXI of the United States Constitution, which repealed prohibition, grants states the right to regulate alcohol distribution and sale. State laws are unique, but each allows local communities to regulate youth access to alcohol through local ordinances and law enforcement. State laws address youth-related violations separately. These include:

State and local enforcement agencies may use administrative and/or criminal penalties against alcohol law violations. Administrative penalties are assessed against vendors through licensing agencies. Administrative penalties include fines, license suspensions and revocations. Criminal penalties are assessed against vendors or minors through state or local criminal courts. Criminal penalties include fines, jail sentences and diversion programs, such as community service.

Why are age 21 minimum drinking laws needed?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that minimum drinking age laws have saved 18,220 lives (of all ages) since 1975. In 1998 alone these laws saved 861 lives. These laws have had greater impact over the years as the drinking ages in the states have increased, affecting more drivers age 18 to 20. Although significant progress has been made over the past 15 years in reducing alcohol involvement in fatal crashes by young drivers, they are still at-risk and over-involved compared to older drivers. In 1998, 42 percent of 18- to 20-year-old crash fatalities were alcohol-related. This compares to 38.4 percent for the total population. More 18 year-olds died in low blood alcohol content (between .01 and .09 BAC) crashes than any other age. These numbers were much higher in past years when many states had lower drinking ages.

The traffic safety benefit of age 21 drinking laws has been well established. Many studies have examined the increase in fatalities when states raised the age. The Government Accounting Office has examined these studies and confirmed the life-saving benefits of age 21 drinking laws.


The Surgeon General of the U.S. determined, in a series of reports in 1991, that many states’ laws contain loopholes that permit underage drinking.

What can you do?

Loopholes in state laws and weaknesses in law enforcement and education have been identified by the Surgeon General. Become familiar with the laws and policies concerning youth access to alcohol in your state by reviewing the following checklist.

Do your alcohol laws:

Do you emphasize the need for preventing youth from illegally purchasing alcohol by:

Are your education efforts directed at:

Do you inhibit the use of false IDs by:

U.S. Department of Transportation
December 1999

Appendix 8 -- Legislative Status Report

PDF -- Legislative Status Report


Resources Cited In How To Guide

Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA)
901 North Pitt Street, Suite 300
Alexandria, VA 22314
Fax: 703-706-0565
Web site: http://www.cadca.org

Indiana Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking
Coalition Project Director
39 Boone Village
Zionsville, IN 46077
Fax: 317-873-0993
Web site: http://www.prevention.indiana.edu

Internal Revenue Service
1111 Constitution Avenue, NW
CP:E:EO, Room 6411
Washington, DC 20224
Web site: http://www.irs.gov

Maryland Committee for Safety Belt Use
7491 Connelley Drive
Hanover, MD 21076
Fax: 410-787-5823

Maryland Underage Drinking Prevention Coalition
Executive Director
Governor’s Office of Crime Control & Prevention
300 East Joppa Road, Suite 1105
Baltimore, MD 21286-3016
Fax: 410-321-3116
Web site: http://www.cesar.umd.edu/goccp/
E-mail: nancy.rea@co.mo.md.us

Mothers Against Drunk Driving
511 East John Carpenter Freeway, Suite 700
Irving, TX 75062
Web site: http://www.madd.org

National Conference of State Legislatures
444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 515
Washington, DC 20001
Fax: 202-737-1069
Web site: http://www.ncsl.org

Project Extra Mile
Executive Director
302 South 36th Street, Suite 214
Omaha, NE 68131
Fax: 402-231-4307
E-mail: driibe@alltel.net

Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID)
P.O. Box 520
Schenectady, NY 12301
Fax: 518-370-4917
Web site: http://www.crisny.org/not-for-profit/rid

Safe and Sober Youth Coalition
Executive Director
Children at Risk Today
14005 Steeplestone Drive, Suite A
Midlothian, VA 23113

The Century Council
1310 G Street, NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20005
Fax: 202-637-0079
Web site: http://www.centurycouncil.org

Troy Community Coalition
Executive Director
Troy Community Coalition
1100 Urbancrest
Troy, MI 48084
Fax: 248-524-1707
E-mail: maslotry@moa.net

Other Public Policy Resources

How and Why To Influence Public Policy: An Action Guide for Community Organizations
Center for Community Change
1000 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20007
Fax: 202-333-5462
E-mail: info@communitychange.org
Web site: http://www.communitychange.org

This special newsletter focuses on how community organizations can flex more muscle on public policy. The guide provides advice on defining key issues, lobbying, demonstrating, and coordinating voter registration drives.

Leonard Communications
Trina Leonard
15713 Cherry Blossom Lane
North Potomac, MD 20878
Fax: 301-948-3736
E-mail: trina@erols.com

PMB Communications
Pam Beer
1114 North Illinois Street
Arlington, VA 22205
Fax: 703-237-8831
E-mail: PMBEER@worldnet.att.net

Save Lives! Join Together!
441 Stuart Street, 6th Floor
Boston, MA 02116
Fax: 617-437-9394
Web site: http://www.jointogether.org

In this booklet, Join Together’s public policy panel looks at the background and issues associated with underage access to alcohol, and offers five recommendations for addressing the problem. The author states that it should be illegal for individuals under age 21 to drive with any measureable amount of alcohol in their bodies. Supporting arguments are included.

DOT HS 809 209
March 2001

Logos of sponsoring organizations and programs: NHTSA, Zero Tolerance, NAGHSR, and Safe Communities