Back in November when Neighbors spoke to members of the Youth Advisory Council for the Coalition for Youth of Lower Merion and Narberth, the students and co-director of YAC Paula Singer mentioned a law that might be helpful for minors to remember this New Year's Eve.
Gov. Tom Corbett’s signature made the Good Samaritan law in Pennsylvania at the beginning of July 2011. Though it didn’t go into effect until 60 days after the signing, the law’s existence has been relatively hush, Singer said.
The law’s provisions exempt those under the legal drinking age from prosecution if they call 911 because they believe someone also underage needs medical attention. Simply put: If you’re drinking underage or around underage drinking but think a friend needs help, call for help.
Underage drinking-related trips to emergency rooms increase by more than 250 percent on New Year’s Eve, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. But in Pennsylvania, it’s the call before the emergency room that is crucial to the Good Samaritan law’s viability in any situation.
Minors have to provide their full names to the 911 operator and stay with the person in need of help for there not to be any legal repercussions.
Officer Joseph Haungs of Lower Merion Township's Crime Prevention Unit said while underage drinking numbers haven't been high this year, he still plans to tell middle schoolers about the law when he begins visiting classes Jan. 3.
"When we would go to high schools, we'd talk a lot about the ethical dilemma," Haungs said. "Do you take that step to call?"
Prior to the law's passing, Pennsylvania had a zero-tolerance policy. If someone got caught underage drinking, "the policy was to cite them," Haungs said.
"This takes away the disincentive for the kids not to call," Haungs said.
Since the Good Samaritan law is relatively new, Neighbors will be contacting local police departments to see if its been used much in its initial months, but we also want to hear from teens who felt at-risk in the past but were too afraid to call – or teens who did call without being reprimanded.