Sloshed, toasted and get crunk! These common terms for drinking excessively have become part of American youth vocabulary and culture. Every weekend, many underage high school and college students look forward to getting dangerously drunk. Here’s a radical notion: perhaps this would be less likely to occur if the drinking age was lowered to 18.
Drinking ages vary by country, with many having a drinking age lower than the 21 years required by US law and some have fewer drunk driving accidents per capita. Although the current law was put into effect to curb excessive drinking in teens, it is counterproductive. At the age of 18 one cannot drink legally, but one can elect a president, get married, buy a home and fight in a war. If young Americans are treated as adults in some circumstances, why not all? Why is the drinking age set at 21? Moreover, what makes young Americans want to binge drink in the first place? Is there a possible connection between the illegality and the desire for those under 21 to drink?
The very fact of outlawing alcohol sales to those under age 21 may make young adults more tempted to drink as a form of rebellion. In 2005, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a survey called Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. This assessed risky behavior in young adults that could result in harm. The results indicated that 45 percent of teens drink, 26 percent binge drank and 29 percent have ridden in a car that was driven by a drunk driver.
Even though many young people wish to see the drinking age lowered, few lawmakers support any change in the law and many adults ado not support the idea. In a recent Gallup poll, 77 percent of people polled said they would oppose a law for lowering the drinking age to 18 and 60 percent wanted stricter drinking laws.
During the 1970’s, the drinking age was lowered to 18. The result was an increase in the number of deaths associated with drunken driving among America’s youth, so the act of lowering the drinking age seemed to fail in the eyes of the government. Consequently, in 1984, the drinking age was raised 21.
However, there are few statistics showing how many deaths or serious injuries are annually caused by drunkenness among people older than 21. Few studies compare U.S. youth drinking statistics with those of countries where the legal drinking age is lower. Without looking at these facts, the arguments made for maintaining the drinking age at 21 are based on things that happened in the 1970’s and are, quite simply, incomplete.
If alcohol was legal, the excitement of doing something rebellious would wear off. Of course some teens would still drink to excess, but many would surely abandon the practice. Furthermore, fewer teens would commit the felony of using a fake ID. Also, more teens might be willing to call a parent for a ride when drunk, having less fear of their parent being mad at them for doing something illegal. As a result, the roads would be safer, the legal system would have fewer ID cases to deal with, and teens might be healthier.
Lowering the drinking age is being done in some states and some jurisdictions, as was reported in the VOICE’s December, 8 2008 issue. It is time for the federal courts to take the issue up again and consider if the consequences of lowering the drinking age would be the same now as they were 30 years ago.