Enforcement Strategies

Laws and regulations must be enforced in order to be effective. Police officers, in particular, play a critical role in enforcement efforts and, as such, should be represented on community advisory boards, health task forces, or school and community coalitions. Police, however, are not the only ones who are key to enforcement in the community. Young people, their parents, and other community members also play an important role in combination with police. Prevention practitioners can educate law enforcement about the effectiveness of existing enforcement strategies and key program elements that increase their effectiveness.

Research suggests that communities are more likely to reduce underage drinking and its consequences if they:

  • Enforce minor-in-possession as well as minimum-age-of-purchase laws using undercover buying operations (e.g., compliance checks). Undercover community buying operations that provide positive and negative feedback to merchants are effective in increasing retailer compliance with underage drinking laws.1
  • Limit driving privileges for those who violate minimum-age purchase and minor-in-possession laws. Suspending the driver’s license of a person under age 21 following a conviction for any alcohol or other drug violation is an effective way to increase compliance with minimum-age of purchase and minor-in-possession laws among youth.2
  • Enforce impaired driving laws. This kind of enforcement is important because it increases public perception of the risk of being caught and punished for driving under the influence of alcohol. Sobriety checkpoints are one example of this kind of public enforcement of underage drinking laws.3
  • Pair enforcement of laws against sales to minors with server training. Such pairing increases the effectiveness of training programs in producing changes in selling and serving practices.4
  • Educate the public about increased enforcement efforts. For policy changes and enforcement to be successful, the public must know what policies they are expected to follow, and the extent to which penalties for violating such policies are appropriately severe and swiftly and consistently implemented.5

Enforcement strategies summarized here include the following:

1 Arnott, J. C. (2006). Youth alcohol enforcement: A community project. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 75(6), 8–11; Elder, R. W., Lawrence, B., Janes, G., Brewer, R. D., Toomey, T., Hingson, R. W.,. . . Fielding, J. (2007). Enhanced enforcement of laws prohibiting sale of alcohol to minors: Systematic review of effectiveness for reducing sales and underage drinking. Transportation Research Circular: Traffic Safety and Alcohol Regulation Symposium, E-C123, 181–188; Preusser, D., Williams, A., & Weinstein, H. (1994). Policing underage alcohol sales. Journal of Safety Research, 2(3), 127–133; Reilly, D., Moore, A., & Magri, J. (2004). Enhanced enforcement of laws to prevent alcohol sales to underage persons—New Hampshire, 1999–2004. MMWR, 53(21), 452–454; and Scribner, R. & Cohen, D. (2001). The effect of enforcement on merchant compliance with the minimum legal drinking age law. Journal of Drug Issues, 31(4), 857–866.

2 Cavazos-Rehg, P. A., Krauss, M. J., Spitznagel, E. L., Chaloupka, F. J., Schootman, M., Grucza, R. A., & Bierut, L. J. (2012). Associations between selected state laws and teenagers’ drinking and driving behaviors. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 36(9), 1647–1652; Ulmer, R. G., Shabanova, V. I., & Preusser, D. F. (2001). Evaluation of use and lose laws. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://icsw.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/research/pub/alcohol-laws/eval-of-law/pagei.html

3 Clapp, J. D., Johnson, M., Voas, R. B., Lange, J. E., Shillington, A., & Russell, C. (2005). Reducing DUI among US college students: Results of an environmental prevention trial. Addiction, 100(3), 327–334.

4 Grube, J. W. (1997). Preventing sales of alcohol to minors: Results for a community trial. Addiction, 92(Suppl. 2), S251–S260.

5 Clapp, J. D., Johnson, M., Voas, R. B., Lange, J. E., Shillington, A., & Russell, C. (2005). Reducing DUI among US college students: Results of an environmental prevention trial. Addiction, 100(3), 327–334; and Fell, J. C., Lacey, J. H., & Voas, R. B. (2004). Sobriety checkpoints: Evidence of effectiveness is strong, but use is limited. Traffic Injury Prevention, 5(3), 220–227. doi:10.1080/15389580490465247.