Statistics show that while educators, parents and public service campaigns have effectively reduced drunken driving among high school students, the number of teens who drink has been slower to come down.

After years of aggressive education in schools and at home, it has become a familiar refrain for teens: Don’t drink and drive.


But has the focus on not getting behind the wheel diluted the message that underage drinking is dangerous in any setting?


Statistics show that while educators, parents and public service campaigns have effectively reduced drunken driving among high school students, the number of teens who drink has been slower to come down.


The recent deaths of Elizabeth Mun of Wellesley and Taylor Meyer of Plainville, both of whom wandered away from parties where alcohol was reportedly served and parents weren’t present or supervising what went on, has drawn attention to what is being done to educate teenagers about the real-life dangers of underage drinking.


“I always tell the kids, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you have, it can happen to anyone,” said Lynda Steverman of Scituate, whose son, P.J. Steverman, disappeared from a keg party at a New Hampshire college in 1995. His body was found months later in a nearby swamp.


Steverman created “Choices,” a documentary that she shows graduating high school seniors to give them advice they may not find in a typical school curriculum, she said.


“As far as preaching to kids about drinking and driving, they know that,” she said. “This is about accepting responsibility for your actions and watching out for your friends and yourself.”


The film is one of several supplemental programs used by some schools to show students the potentially life-shattering consequences of drinking alcohol – a reality many youths may not take seriously.


According to a Youth Risk Behavior survey done by the Center for Disease Control, the number of students who say they have gotten in a car with a drunken driver fell from 40 percent to 29 percent between 1991 and 2007.


The number of students who drink alcohol, though, has fallen only 6 percent in that time – from 51 percent to 45 percent. Surveys done at South Shore high schools show similar statistics, with some communities facing an increase in teens who drink.


And while most middle or high school curriculums include drug and alcohol awareness materials, some experts wonder whether it could prevent the tragedies that can result from teens drinking.


Teaching high school students to be safe in those situations is difficult, said Steve Maguire, a professional speaker who addresses alcohol use with parents and students.


“It’s frowned upon in formal education,” said Maguire, also a teacher at Scituate High School. “That’s the toughest part of your role as an educator, there’s only so much you can say.”


Maguire has started a program in that brings the conversation about drinking to parents of elementary school children. He hopes parents will be more likely to talk to their kids before problems develop.


Local police departments have also tightened their policies to teach teens that underage drinking will not be condoned, whether a car is involved or not.


“Our policy is if you come across underage drinking, you have to do something, said Hingham Lt. Michael Peraino. “There’s no letting them go.”


Zero-tolerance policies in many towns mean that minors caught at a party with alcohol will be arrested, brought to the station or picked up directly by their parents. Peraino said departments are also charging more parents under social host laws if they know teens are drinking in their home.


“Part of the problem is that society feels that part of growing up is being able to drink, and some parents condone it,” said Peraino. “Given the possible consequences, it boggles my mind that parents would even take the chance.”


The Patriot Ledger