- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 17, 2005

SPRINGFIELD — When Laura Dawson’s son Matt got into a car with a drunken driver six years ago, he was leaving a party where dozens of teenagers had been drinking, and Mrs. Dawson had no idea her son was there. She concedes she may have been oblivious.

But someone had to buy the beer, and someone knew what was going on the night her son was killed in a car crash, she said.

Faced with a growing number of fatal crashes involving young drivers, police in Fairfax County are asking teens to step up and report underage drinking or other situations before they end in tragedy.

Police created an anonymous tip line Friday.

With prom and graduation season approaching, students suggested the idea, said Lt. Dan Townsend, deputy commander of the Fairfax County Police Department Traffic Division.

The hot line, 703/246-2333, will be in operation through the end of June.

“Numerous students have come to us and said, ‘You know the cops are always the last to know,’” Lt. Townsend said.

The recorded tip line, which police will check every day, is a tool that could save lives, said Mike Green, executive director of the Northern Virginia chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“The idea is for these phone calls to be investigated before the party starts,” Mr. Green said.

The idea is “not primarily to get them in trouble but to keep them from getting hurt.”

For Lindsay Gilbert, 16, a junior at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, it is not realistic to think that teens would report other teens to the police for underage drinking — an activity that often has parents’ tacit approval.

“I think it’s kind of a bogus idea, if you ask me,” she said. “I’m a teen that doesn’t drink, but I know a majority of my school does.”

Asked whether she would consider reporting one of her closest friends if they were about to drive while intoxicated, she opted not to take a position.

“Other people would find out who reported it,” said her friend, Tamara Pilgrim, 16.

Last year, 64 deaths were recorded on Fairfax County roads, among them 15 teenagers, according to police records. Police insist calls to the tip line are part of a strategy to improve safety on the roads, not to crack down on underage drinking.

“We just don’t want to come by an hour later” after a party ends to “pick them up off the highway,” Lt. Townsend said.

“Any effort that can be taken to stop actions before they get to the consequence of a crash will be one more life saved,” Mrs. Dawson said.

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