Fake ID penalties miss the mark

New draconian penalties for the use of fake IDs have been enacted at the state level, disproportionately punishing underage students who attempt to illegally enter bars or purchase alcohol. According to The Livingston County News, anyone caught attempting to use a fake ID will not only have it confiscated, but the offender’s state driver’s license will be revoked for 90 days. While probably well intentioned, this policy misses the point entirely. Instead of penalizing students who attempt to purchase alcohol, efforts should focus on making sure that the alcohol is consumed responsibly.

The suspension of a license potentially carries destructive repercussions. It could impact employment and educational opportunities, in turn hindering the ability for students to pay the $200 fine and $85 surcharge associated with a guilty plea for the charge of “Unlawful Possession of a Fake or Fraudulent” license.

Moreover, the state Department of Motor Vehicles is considering notifying an offender’s car insurance company of violations involving fake IDs. This could cause an increase in premiums, creating a further financial penalty.

These consequences hardly correspond with someone trying to avoid the cover charge at the Inn Between or even a 19-year-old student trying to buy some beer. Instead, the revocation of someone’s right to drive only serves to alienate law enforcement from the student body and hamper efforts to make sure that deaths from alcohol poisoning and drunk driving are avoided.

Programs to educate students – without the moralizing, misinformation or fear mongering – on how to drink safely can be effective in reducing negative drinking consequences. While these programs all too easily fall into exploitative or implausible ruts, they can reduce students’ deaths without alienating the audience that they are ostensibly protecting.

But perhaps this entire discussion misses the point. The issue of underage drinking could be solved with relative ease – all it requires is a reduction in the drinking age from 21 to a more reasonable age of 18.

While equally arbitrary, it would allow for students to become familiar with drinking before, in many cases, getting a car. Research by Peter Asch and David Levy indicates that “learning to drink” before driving may be effective in reducing drunk driving.

While many balk at the thought of dramatically reducing the drinking age to levels not seen since the age of Mothers Against Drunk Driving hysteria, claiming that it will cause “kids” to drink more, I would argue that the legal drinking age does little to influence students’ behaviors.

To illustrate this point further, over the weekend of Sept. 20 and 21, there were 14 fake or fraudulent identification violations logged by the Geneseo Village Police. If those 14 people attempted to illegally get alcohol, I doubt the law stops many others from doing the same thing and getting away with it.

There are many good reasons that I have heard given for abstaining from alcohol, but I have never heard the legal argument. Parents typically have greater control over their child’s activities than the law, and even parental control evaporates in college. Letting students determine their own actions – and keeping them from injuring others – is the only justifiable course of action.

Until then, students’ lives will be disrupted unnecessarily thanks to ill-advised crackdowns on something that has become, for better or worse, a ubiquitous aspect of collegiate life.