Should the US lower the legal drinking age?

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).

Parade article

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19 Comments

  1. Jamelle said,

    August 13, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    Hey, really enjoyed the blog post, I commented on it over at my blog:

    usjamerica.blogspot.com

  2. ClapSo said,

    August 13, 2007 at 5:17 pm

    I believe that the drinking age should be lowered to 18.

    I believe the DRIVING age should be increased to 30. I don’t like the way people in their teens and twenties DRIVE WHEN THEY’RE SOBER!

    The scientifically impossible I do right away
    The spiritually miraculous takes a bit longer

  3. MichaelS said,

    August 14, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    Well, I thinking drinking is a lot like driving in this regard: the only way to learn is to do it. If you increased the driving age to 30, you’d have a bunch of 30 year-olds who drive like our 18 year-olds. Plus all the people like me who would refuse to quit driving because some ninny doesn’t understand this. I wouldn’t be any worse of a driver than I am now, because I’ve already learned to drive, but what about all the people who will have to start driving without a license, without any formal training, without any idea of what they’re doing? And god forbid you or I teach them, because then I might get in trouble for encouraging delinquency or something equally stupid.

    Likewise, when people wait until they’re 21 to start drinking, they just delay the stupidity a few years. People who’ve been drinking since they were 15 or 16 are usually fairly responsible drinkers at 18 or 19. People who start drinking at 21 are probably even more dangerous than a 15 year old, because they are judged to be “old enough”, so other people aren’t going to control them as well.

    I don’t drink (and I’m over 21), so it doesn’t really bother me. But people are a lot better off when they learn to drink with other people around who can take care of them, rather than starting to drink long after they’ve left the nest and are all alone. And they’re even better off when the “other people” involve a few older adults. I say drop the legal limit to 16, raise the penalties for doing things like drinking and driving, and allow parents to do their job. (For raising the penalties, we could start by actually imposing some on minors–I’ve no idea how many young people I’ve met who are on their 2nd or 3rd DUI without so much as jailtime or community service.)

  4. Nolan said,

    August 14, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    I think they should lower the legal drinking age to 18. The fact is, most people are off to college before they are 21 and we know that people are going to be drinking underage. They are in an unsupervised atmosphere and it is a new time in their lives to experiment. Better to have them start younger in a somewhat controlled setting (at home) and learn to be responsible.

    Punish those who abuse alcohol and are a risk to others, not those who drink responsibly.

  5. mdurwin said,

    August 14, 2007 at 7:23 pm

    I had a very interesting conversation some years ago with a woman I was dating from Germany. There, although there is a drinking age (16 for wine and beer, 18 for hard liquor), many fairly young children drank beer. The outcome was that in their teens, before driving age (18), many experiment heavily with alcohol. By the time they are 18 they’ve gotten the “hey look how drunk I am” part of their life behind them. The upshot is that the driving fatalities in Germany are half of what they ar in the U.S. Germany has 7.1 fatalities per 100,000 people, the U.S. has 14.5 per 100,000. Here’s the link:
    http://www.monash.edu.au/muarc/reports/papers/fatals.html
    There are links to charts at the bottom.
    I’m much more in favor of lowerng the drinking age for hard liquor to 16 and removing the drinking age of beer and wine altogether. However, I would add that while those are my suggestions for the age of consumption, the age to purchase should be different. This would allow adults to be in control of how much liquor their children ingest. I would suggest that the age of purchase for hard liquor be 18 and the age of purchase for beer and wine be 16. I would further suggest that noone should be allowed to drive AT ALL until they are 18. Possibly limiting highway or out-of-state travel to 21.

  6. MichaelS said,

    August 16, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    What possible reason would you have for raising the driving age to 18? Then kids learn to drive when there’s nobody but other kids to teach them; it’s the same thing as having a high drinking age. And limiting highway/out-of-state travel to 21 and over is absurd.

    Back in Texas, that would have prevented me from getting to town, work, school, my friend’s place, etc. Here in Arizona, it would have prevented me from seeing my family for 3 years, prevented me from attending two of my friend’s weddings, forced me to do several 1000+ mile trips by myself (rather than alternating between 2 or 3 drivers), and many other things. It would have prevented my sister from doing *anything* for 5 years; no work, no school, no friends, no anything. I could have gotten rides from my mom occasionally, but she would have been screwed.

    My sister and I started learning to drive when we were 13. Our parents let us drive up to the highway for a year or two, then we got our permits and started driving to town and around town with parents in the car. By the time we had licenses to drive by ourselves, we had a good bit of experience doing things on our own.

    Were we perfect drivers at that point? Of course not, but imagine trying to do all of that by yourself, with no adults to guide you, nobody to tell you what this sign is for, or what those marks on the road mean–all this while you’re at one of the biggest, harshest transitional periods of your life. Not a good thing.

  7. Against All Odds said,

    September 19, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    It’s funny, I’ve heard arguements for both keeping the age at 21 or lowering it to 18. Well, myself and a group I like to call Against All Odds (non-profit, pending) have a different proposal. It has been proven that rasing the legal age from an elective 18 to a mandatory 21 HAS cut down on auto-related drunk driving deaths in the US. This is PROVEN! BUT, it hasn’t eliminated them completely, or even as much as it should. Too many of our young people are still dying in alcohol related accidents! Think of this. At 21, it’s still very possible to be a full-time student in undergraduate college (where drunk driving as at it’s worst). It is even more possible to have interaction with under 21s. So in theory, although a 19 yearold sophomore may not be able to purchase alcohol, they can still receive it easily from a slightly older peer. A mandatory age of 21, in this circumstance, is a moot point.

    So how do we at Against All Odds attempt to fix the situation? It’s simple, we want a 50 state, MANDATORY legal purchase age of twenty-four (24) years of age or older. Under 24s would NOT be allowed to purchase, sell, distribute or consume alcoholic beverages under any circumstance, unless where otherwise noted (ie private, family consumption within the company of a legal adult over 24). With the increase in age restriction, retailers will have no choice but to comply with the utmost respect for the law; including identification on ALL purchases, regardless of age (19-90, check em’ all).

    Like MADD, we intend to use highway funding as a tool for compliance, although we wouldn’t mind a fedral law banning sale (thus making it a far more serious federal offense to sell or distribute alcohol to an under 24). We realize, though, that this isn’t likely and hope for an alliance with MADD and pursue the revoking highway funding (de facto federal law).

    – Against All Odds (website and petition coming soon)

  8. Brittany said,

    November 13, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    I can see both sides of this.
    Raising the drinking age should (in theory) prevent young people from making stupid choices and force them to use the brains they were creating during puberty. It is believed that by this age your brain and body has stopped growing and is now fully mature.
    Yeah. Right.
    I have met 30 year olds who make worse choices than 15 year olds. With age doesn’t come maturity. Maturity is something that developes at its own pace. This being the case, I really dont think that raising the drinking age will make any difference.
    I blame the achohol abuse on the government. If we actually educated our children about the risks of alchohol instead of just saying, “Heres what it does, now dont do it.” Its like a child touching a burner, even though his parents tell him not to. You tell him not to, but you dont explain WHY not to. Children and teens do not see the risk, especially when they’re parents/grandparents/other adults drink it so freely in front of them. If they were given the chance to drink alchohol in front of the watchful eyes of their parents, they would feel more like adults and act more like adults.
    And as far as the MADD program. Get a life. You blame other children for your child being dead. It is actully your fault your child is dead. They made the decision to drink (most likely because you didnt explain well enough why not to), and they are the ones who decided to do it in the first place.

    All in all, I think the drinking age should be lowered and alchohol educaion should be stressed.
    If you treat teens like the adults they want to be, most likely they will rise to the occasion.

  9. Isaac Chavez said,

    March 16, 2008 at 2:58 am

    Yea they should lower the drinking age to 18 cuz 18 years old is consider an adult n they could do almost everything except drink.

  10. BRITTANY said,

    May 7, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    of cource they should. why not? they do it anyways.. so we should just go ahead and legalize it.

  11. Valentin said,

    August 19, 2008 at 1:08 am

    I lived in Switzerland for over 11 years, in which the drinking age starts at 16 – 18. With 16, teens can purchase and consume beer and whine. With 18, “teens” can purchase and consume alcopops and hard liquor.

    In my country (yes I am a Swiss citizen) we do not have a problem with alcohol abuse. Of course there might be the one or other renegade that makes a mistake, and kills someone, but it happens in every country. Teens learn to consume alcohol very early (usually before 16) and thus learn how to handle it and what their limit is.

    My friend in the US drank for the first time on his 17th birthday. He drank whiskey, and had to be brought to the hospital with the emergency car on an oxygen machine. He was so much alcohol in his blood that he passed out and quite breathing by himself.

    I believe that if he were able to drink with 17 (or 16) without having to do it secretly, he would have had a slow start into the drinking culture and learned about his drinking limit. Luckily he is okay now.

  12. Brad said,

    September 30, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    My friend is 12 and his girlfriend is telling him that it is not as bad but I want to know what could happen if he does some one please tell me.

  13. Brad said,

    September 30, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    oh wate never mind

  14. Brad said,

    September 30, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    HE DONTXD!

  15. unitedwelay1 said,

    November 6, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    That is, of course, the Federal Government’s way of regulating that which they have no right to regulate. The drinking age should be lowered. You should be allowed to have small amounts of alcohol (say a glass of wine with dinner on special occasions or in religious ceremonies) in the presence of a parent at the age of 13. Let adults teach their children how to drink responsibly before they move out of the house and do it incredibly irresponsibly.

  16. none said,

    January 16, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    i think the drinking age is fine where it is becuase lowering it would have more consequences thhan benefits.

  17. hi said,

    September 12, 2011 at 10:40 am

    hey none stop talking

  18. Ali said,

    April 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    the whole drink driving thing is an excuse for an almost comicaly high age in 90% of countries drink driving is much more common in middle aged drivers than young drivers

  19. CluelessNoob said,

    March 25, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    all of you have good arguments. i feel that it should be lowered though


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