Standing on a bar-lined strip of San Francisco’s Polk Street, State Assemblyman Jerry Hill held a press conference Monday morning highlighting his proposed Assembly Bill 45, which would impose stricter laws on “party buses” regarding underage drinking and is named for a Burlingame teen who was killed in a car accident after hours of drinking on a party bus.
“The law hasn’t kept up with the times," Hill, D-San Mateo, said, referring to a loophole in the existing law exempting bus drivers from rules that limousine drivers follow, holding them responsible for underage drinking onboard. “[The buses] are essentially booze cruises, a party on wheels.”
Hill began work on the bill two years ago, following the death of 19-year-old Burlingame resident Brett Studebaker on February 6, 2010. He had been drinking on a party bus for a friend’s birthday. Brett later got in his car and crashed into a sound wall on Highway 101 near San Mateo.
Doug and Linda Studebaker, Brett's parents, joined Hill at the press conference.
“Party buses can be deadly for our kids,” said Linda Studebaker. “He was a crash that was going to happen.” She said he was seriously inebriated when dropped off by the bus, with a blood alcohol level of .26—nearly three times the legal limit.
“We miss him so deeply,” said Doug Studebaker. “How can a responsible business get away with dropping inebriated underage kids at their cars to fend for themselves?”
Under the bill, the bus company is required to ask if those under 21 will be on board. If so, a chaperone of at least 25 years old must accompany the group and be responsible for making sure those under 21 years old are not drinking and notifying the driver if they are.
If those under 21 years old are found drinking, the alcohol must be locked under the bus or the party will be terminated.
The bill also holds drivers accountable for verifying the age of passengers they suspect to be under 21. Drivers can face fines of $2,000, license suspension or revocation or a misdemeanor for noncompliance. The chaperone similarly would face a misdemeanor for supplying alcohol to minors.
The legislation is set to go before the state Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Hill said.
Hill said his office has been successful in working with the party bus companies on his legislation.
They've been looking at this as a problem they want to solve, as well," he said.
If passed by the Senate committee Tuesday, the bill would likely go before the Senate in August.
--Bay City news contributed to this report.