Prom ‘party bus’ culture focus of new state law

By Brittany File

Prom culture has changed drastically from the once innocent night of drinking punch and playing spin the bottle.  For some teens, prom has come to represent a time where friends gather on party buses for an evening of Jell-O shots, drunken candid pictures and drinking games.

“Not everyone was drunk, but there weren’t any completely sober people,” says one Carmel High senior girl who rode a party bus to last year’s prom at HiddenValley. “I only remember up to the bus ride back from prom, and then I blacked out, which was really scary.”

The issue is so concerning to legislators that California Assembly Bill 45, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2013, was passed in an effort to end the growing tradition of minors drinking alcohol on party buses.

Statistics tell a sad story about the tragedies that have occurred as result of underage drinking during prom season.

According to statistics from Liberty Mutual, Students against Destructive Decisions and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 90 percent of teens believe their peers are more likely to drink and drive on prom night, and 54 percent of students have more than four drinks on prom night.

Multiple teenage drunk-driving accidents that occurred following an evening of indulging on a party bus raised the awareness of the need for change in the minds of California’s senators, and after one horrific accident in 2010, that change came.

In February 2010, 19-year-old Burlingame native Brett Studebaker celebrated his friend’s 21st birthday on a party bus. He left the party bus drunk and attempted to drive home, but never made it. With a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, Studebaker’s life ended after he drove his car into a sound wall on Highway 1.

Upon learning of the events leading up to his death, Studebaker’s parents and two sisters joined forces with Assemblyman Jerry Hill, a Democrat from San Mateo, to urge the passing of a bill that called for stricter underage drinking rules on party buses.

This legislation, California Assembly Bill 45, “requires the chartering party making a reservation to designate a “designee” (a chaperone), as defined, to be present on any party bus or limousine if (1) their party will include a person who is under 21 years of age and (2) alcohol will be on that bus during the provision of transportation services.”

California senators unanimously passed the bill, which required party buses to abide by the same rules that limousines operate under.

“They should have added more to that law,” says Gina Lara, manager of City Life Limousine. “In my opinion, there should even be a limit on the alcohol adults are allowed to bring on the bus.”

After looking further into the law, it quickly becomes apparent that underage drinking isn’t the only problem that party bus drivers are forced to face.

“Unfortunately, alcohol changes everyone’s behavior,” Lara continues. “This new law will make it easier for the drivers because they will be able to drive instead of babysit.”

With a chaperone present on the bus, party bus drivers will no longer be in charge of both driving and watching their passengers, which will make the bus a safer mode of transportation.

Carmen Pellz, the manager of Bay Area Party buses, agrees that the law is a positive change.

“Alcohol for minors is not allowed on our party bus or anywhere, but I believe this new law is good because it further deters underage drinking,” Pellz says.