Friday, October 9

Unintended consequences of Breathalyzers in high schools

Schools in Foxborough (near Boston) will be using Breathalyzer tests on students suspected of being drunk at school or school functions.

When I saw this on Fox News last night, it struck me as a horrible idea because of unintended consequences. Sure, Breathalyzer tests will increase the chances that a student who is drunk gets caught. Sure, it may reduce underage drinking a little bit. But it also means drunk students will be less likely to show up at school functions. While this is a good thing for the school, it's probably bad for the drunk students.

About two minutes into the video linked above, Fox News profiles a woman whose teenage daughter died in a drinking-related accident. She praises the Breathalyzer proposal and says if her daughter had got caught drunk at the high school football game she went to, she wouldn't have died.

But my guess is that teenagers such as her won't show up at football games if Breathalyzer tests are used. They'll be more likely to avoid school functions, which have the benefit of adult supervision, and increase the student's chances of an accident. Rather than implement Breathalyzer tests, schools would be better off training their teachers to recognize signs of alcohol impairment and how to deal with it.

I'm often reluctant to praise civil liberties organizations, but in this case I agree wholeheartedly with the position articulated by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).