Parade.com has an article from yesterday discussing this issue. It opens with the following:
If a woman is old enough to sign a contract, buy a house and get married, isn’t she also old enough to sip champagne at her wedding? If a man is mature enough to serve on a jury or risk his life in a war halfway around the world, isn’t he also mature enough to drink a beer?
Seems reasonable enough, although the idea has its opponents, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving:
MADD and other supporters of the 21 law—who far outnumber the critics—point to, among other things, a ream of studies showing a strong correlation between a higher drinking age and a reduction in drunk-driving wrecks involving teenagers.
Higher drinking age = fewer drunk-driving wrecks involving teenagers…this makes sense. But even if it results in fewer teenage accidents (and deaths), are there fewer deaths overall because of the restriction? Not according to the National Youth Rights Association. Under their FAQ it asks “Did raising the drinking age save 20,000 lives?” Answer:
No. This is one of the most misguided and over used statistics circulated by the Youth Prohibitionist movement. The truth is, as researchers Peter Asch and David Levy put it, the “minimum legal drinking age is not a significant-or even a perceptible-factor in the fatality experience of all drivers or of young drivers.” In an in-depth and unrefuted study Asch and Levy prove that raising the drinking age merely transferred lost lives from the 18-20 bracket to the 21-24 age group. The problem with the 20,000 lives saved statistic is that it looks only at deaths for people aged 18-20.
I personally think the drinking age should be lowered. I also think that punishing parents who allow underage drinking at their house – while no doubt well-intentioned – is misguided. Such rules essentially punish parents who choose to be responsible and supervise their kids, while irresponsible parents who have no idea where their kids are or who they’re with face no discipline. We are one of the few countries with a drinking age set so high. Indeed, wikipedia has an entire entry dedicated to the legal age around the world (see: “legal drinking age“). Most seem to be set around 16 or 18. Interestingly, some countries have 2 different age restrictions, one for purchasing, and one for consumption. This is probably not a bad approach, as it would allow parents to legally introduce their kids to responsible consumption within the safety of their house.
Do I think the drinking age will ever be lowered? That, is perhaps the more interesting question. States are not required, per se, to have the drinking age set at 21, but they lose all federal highway funds if they lower it beyond that limit. As long as that federal restriction is in place, the age will likely never change. It’s unfortunate, because it prohibits states from experimenting with different restrictions to see what is most effective. For instance, when my parents were in college it was legal for an 18 year old to drink beer (3.2% alcohol by volume), but not hard liquor. The parade article also suggests a drinking “learner’s permit,” where someone who violates the rules loses the right to drink before age 21. I imagine many other alternatives would emerge.
Bottom line – we should be punishing those who risk the lives of others (drinking and driving) and not those who only risk their own lives (regulation will not make stupidity disappear).