Underage drinkers are getting younger

FRESNO, Calif.

The accidents are raising new concerns about young people who get behind the wheel.

New statistics from the California Highway Patrol show -- nearly one in six drivers arrested for driving under the influence in Fresno County are under the legal drinking age.

The problem is nothing new, but those who monitor drinking trends closely are noticing a disturbing spike. Not only are highway patrol officers seeing younger faces, the department of alcoholic beverages is getting more complaints about underage men and women getting drunk and hitting the road.

Adults are not the only ones who are throwing back a few alcoholic beverages ... those 18 to 21 are among a growing group of drinkers in the Central Valley.

Christine Weldon said, "We do have a huge problem and i think a lot of it has to do with the whole idea of drinking when you are young- it's enticing, it's exciting and it's kind of viewed as a rite of passage. So collectively as a society we tend to condone it even though we may verbally advocate against it."

In 2009 -- 16 percent of those pulled over by the CHP in Fresno County and arrested for drunk driving were under the age of 21. For 2010 -- the numbers are on pace to be similar.

Enrique Reade said, "Statistics show that some kids start drinking at nine years ... nine. That's like my grandkid. It's hard when I look at them and I go man, I can't picture her drinking. But the thing is its gotten outta hand now, we need more programs to prevent it."

Reade founded the "Scared Stiff" program for first time underage offenders. He is also a funeral director. He believes the problem is getting worse.

"Even as a 13-year-old, 10-year-old they know when mommy and daddy get behind the wheel and they are drinking, they know it so when they get their license they know it's wrong, but they still do it."

Alcoholic beverage control officials say this year; the problem has been especially prevalent. Operations to combat underage drinking are constantly being evaluated and reworked.

Decoy operations are the focus of many stings to deter underage drinking.

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