CHICAGO— Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today expanded the state’s efforts to crack down on underage drinking by introducing a pilot program to Kane and McHenry counties. The new program targets the sources of alcohol in underage drinking-related fatalities and injuries. TrAIL (Tracking Alcohol in IL) was designed by Gov. Blagojevich’s Alcohol Abuse Task Force (AATF) to pinpoint those selling alcohol to minors and punish them accordingly. It was originally launched in August 2006 as a pilot program in central and southern Illinois. To complement the increased law enforcement, the Governor also expanded the state’s “Don’t Be Sorry” educational campaign which teaches kids the consequences of underage drinking.
“As parents, we love our children and try to teach them to make good decisions. But we can’t be with our kids all of the time to make sure they do the right thing. That’s why the TrAIL program is so important. It helps us track down and go after people who sell or give alcohol to minors. If we’re serious about curbing underage drinking, we need to address the problem from every aspect, and that includes both teaching kids to do the right thing and taking on those who are giving alcohol to minors,” said Governor Blagojevich.
Under the TrAIL program, a special investigation is conducted when underage alcohol consumption is suspected in an incident—such as a car crash, underage drinking party, alcohol poisoning/overdose, sexual assault or other event—that results in injury or death. If the above criteria are met, first responding officers will call a 24-hour hotline number to deploy a TrAIL investigator, who will assist in the collection of evidence and determine where the alcohol was purchased or served.
“When our teenagers leave the house, we as parents worry about all the dangerous influences they may face on a day to day basis.” First Lady Patricia Blagojevich said. “This program will help to reduce these influences by investigating stores that sell alcohol to minors. Through programs like TrAIL and ‘Don’t Be Sorry’, the Governor and I are dedicated to making this state safer for all of our children.”
Since the tragic loss of her son, Glenview parent Debra Tyrpak has become a committed advocate against underage drinking. “I feel the issue of teens and drinking has long been overlooked. Establishments possessing an Illinois liquor license must realize it is a privilege to be granted a license, and it is their duty to uphold the laws pertaining to that license.”
The death of two high school students last week in Deerfield due to underage drinking hit her especially hard. “I know their heartbreak. Last year, my 16-year-old son, Joey, lost his life when he drowned in a retention pond after attending a party where underaged drinking was taking place. It is my hope that TrAIL will prevent tragedies like ours from happening in the future.”
Conducting a TrAIL investigation immediately after an incident greatly increases the odds of successfully tracking the alcohol purchase, according to law enforcement professionals. While the initial responding officer concentrates on the immediate aftermath of the incident (i.e., monitoring traffic flow, coordinating emergency vehicles around the scene, interviewing those involved in the incident, etc.), a TrAIL investigator will focus specifically on determining where the alcohol was purchased.
TrAIL is funded through a $100,000 traffic safety grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation. The Governor’s AATF, created to coordinate cross-agency cooperation in combating alcohol abuse in Illinois, provided the Liquor Commission with programmatic recommendations and funding sources. The Liquor Commission has partnered with the Illinois State Police, Secretary of State Police, and Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police to collaborate each agency’s efforts for the success of the TrAIL program.
To bring the consequences of underage drinking to life, the “Don't Be Sorry” educational campaign will kick off in Kane County this Friday at South Elgin High School where students can experience a drunk driving simulator. On Tuesday, October 24th, “Don't Be Sorry” will launch in McHenry County at Huntley High School, where—in addition to disseminating of educational materials and the simulator—a speaker will relay to students the dangers of underage drinking. Earlier this month, West Aurora High School students also experienced the “Don't Be Sorry” campaign as part of their driver's educational program.
“If we are to change behaviors, education and enforcement go hand-in-hand. With this in mind, materials have been created not only for the teens but for parents and liquor retailers as well,” said Ted Penesis, Industry Education Manager for the Liquor Commission.
The TrAIL program has been successful in determining the source of illegal alcohol distribution in its initial pilot in Sangamon and Jackson counties. For example, in Carbondale, an 18-year-old suffered alcohol poisoning and was taken to the emergency room. A TrAIL investigator was deployed and able to identify the adult who provided the teen with alcohol. The adult was arrested and criminal charges are pending, giving peace of mind to the teen’s parents.
By expanding into Kane and McHenry counties, the AATF expects to collect more extensive data on injuries and deaths caused by underage drinking. For example, whether underage drinking was actually responsible for an incident is often difficult to determine. Additionally, the type of liquor involved in an incident will be tracked, and a central repository will be created to catalog those establishments who sell to minors. Using these statistics, the Task Force can identify further ways to reduce underage drinking in Illinois.
The TrAIL concept is based on California’s successful TRACE (Target Responsibility for Alcohol Connected Emergencies) Program, which was inaugurated in 2004. In June 2006, nearly fifty Illinois investigators from throughout the state received specialized training. The training sessions, conducted by personnel from California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, focused on strategies and procedures used in tracking alcohol purchases.
Additional training sessions for both state and local law enforcement will be held next year. By providing this training to local police, TrAIL can be expanded statewide in the near future. In the meantime, trained state investigators will respond to TrAIL hotline calls in an ever-expanding list of counties—including two new rural counties in northern Illinois next month.
The Governor has taken the following steps to improve alcohol and teen driving safety in Illinois:
- Gov. Blagojevich signed several laws focused on protecting teenage drivers in 2005. One new law bans drivers under the age of 18 from using cell phones while behind the wheel. A second law requires drivers under 18 to make sure that their teen passengers are properly buckled up in the front and back seats.
- Gov. Blagojevich signed a new law initiated by Secretary of State Jesse White in 2006 that increases the amount of time teenage drivers must spend in behind the wheel instruction before they can receive their driver’s license.
- In 2004, Gov. Blagojevich launched the Governor’s Alcohol Abuse Task Force aimed at educating citizens about the prevention and treatment resources available throughout the state to help combat alcohol abuse.