New ‘party bus’ law makes owners liable for underage drinking

No local problems cited by police
2013-01-06T16:45:00Z 2013-01-06T16:49:04Z New ‘party bus’ law makes owners liable for underage drinkingKERANA TODOROV Napa Valley Register
January 06, 2013 4:45 pm  • 

Under a new law meant to close a loophole in the underage drinking law, “party bus” operators will be held responsible for underage drinking on board.

Then-Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, now a state senator, introduced the bill last year after a 19-year-old man from Burlingame was killed in a drunk-driving crash after drinking on a party bus.

While limousine operators were already held accountable for underage drinking, party bus operators were not. The bill, Assembly Bill 45, which was signed into law, closed that loophole.

Bus companies that do not comply with the law can be subject to a $2,000 fine, license suspension or revocation. Under the law, a chaperone 25 years old or older is responsible for anyone under the age of 21.

Hill’s bill was named after Brett Studebaker, the Burlingame teenager who died.

California Highway Patrol Officer Jake Ramos, who has been assigned to the Napa unit since 2009, said that, to his knowledge, the CHP has not had any problems with party bus operators in Napa County.

“I think they’re a great help because the drivers are providing a service,” he said of bus, limousine and other private transportation operators. “We’ve never had any issues with any of the local party buses.”

Napa Police Capt. Jeff Troendly said underage drinking on party buses has not been an issue within the city of Napa. The Napa County District Attorney’s Office this week reported no cases related to underage drinking on party buses.

The owner of California Party Bus — a company based in San Diego and San Francisco that offers wine tasting tours in Napa County — said the new law is not strict enough, referring to the possibility that underage customers may be on board with others close in age who are not parents.

“There are a lot of operators out there that don’t care about the law,” owner Matthew Berger said. “Our policy is zero tolerance.”

His company does not allow someone under the age of 21 to be on a bus where alcohol is on board unless a parent or guardian is also present, Berger said Thursday. There may be exceptions such as a wedding. Bags are not allowed on board, he noted.

“I think it’s a good start,” Berger said of the new law, “but it’s not quite enough.”

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