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European edition, Tuesday, July 24, 2007

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — Young soldiers beware.

Starting Aug. 1, it will be illegal for drivers under 21 to have any alcohol in their system when driving on Germany’s roads. Drivers caught defying the zero-tolerance policy face a fine of up to 1,000 euros, driver education courses and point penalties.

“Beginner drivers have not yet been sufficiently sensitized to the dangers of alcohol at the wheel,” German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said earlier this month as he explained the purpose of the new law. “Driving and drinking are incompatible.”

While the law is intended to discourage risky behavior among younger German drivers, some soldiers, to whom the law also applies, say the regulation is heavy-handed.

“I think it’s pretty stupid. It (alcohol) affects you the same way. Why does it matter how old you are?” said Nycole Papineau, 19, of the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion in Baumholder.

Nonetheless, Papineau said she has nothing to worry about.

“When I go out drinking, I take a taxi,” she said.

Papineau’s friends, Pvt. Zoila Gil, 18, and Sgt. Michael Roach, 23, concurred, saying that young people can drink just as responsibly as the old.

“I feel that age shouldn’t make a difference. It should be the same law for everybody,” Roach said.

While the German law takes effect in a couple of weeks, it will take between 30 and 60 days for U.S. Army Europe to draft new post regulations that correspond with the law. The post regulations are in the midst of being updated, said Tom Lorenzini, registrar of motor vehicles at USAREUR’s Office of the Provost Marshal.

“I’m sure the command will adopt the law,” Lorenzini said, noting that it would not make sense for there to be two different laws.

Since there is no magistrate, violations on post can’t carry a monetary penalty. Other punishments, such as revoking a license, can be imposed, Lorenzini said.

While one beer can make for legal trouble if you’re under 21 and behind the wheel, it’s another matter if you’re not driving. At Army and Air Force Exchange Service facilities, the legal age for purchasing alcohol is 18, according to AAFES spokesman Lt. Col. David Konop.

The German zero-tolerance crackdown comes at a time when DUI rates among soldiers stationed in Europe are at a six-year low.

In 2006, there were 4.1 DUI incidents per 1,000 soldiers, compared to 6.6 in 2005 and 9.4 in 2004, according to USAREUR’s Office of the Provost Marshal.

For drivers above the age of 21, there is no change. It remains illegal to get behind the wheel with a blood-alcohol content level of .05 and above.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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