For decades now, there has been a debate among the nation’s regulators and safety experts about what the national drinking age should be. Some have argued that the nation’s current limit, 21, is too high and arbitrarily set, unnecessarily leading younger people to illegally binge drink due to their lack of easy access to alcohol. Others claim that lowering the drinking age would lead to even worse trouble for college-aged individuals, with more deaths due to alcohol poisoning and drunk driving.
A recent article published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs argues that the current legal limit actually does serve a purpose and that it saves lives. Researchers behind the paper concluded that the current drinking age lowers the rate of alcohol-related car accidents and also works to lower the amount of alcohol consumed by young adults.
The drinking ages across the country have historically varied. In the early 1900s, many states chose the age of 21, though there were some exceptions to this general rule. However, in the early 1970s, more than half of all states decided to lower the drinking age to 18. The move was based in part on the draft, which was then sending thousands of young men off to war. Legislatures felt pressure to ensure that the same people who were able to fight and die for the country were able to legally have a drink.
The problem was that almost immediately after the drinking ages were dropped, there was a measurable increase in the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities. The increase was so stark that states began raising their recently lowered limits. Finally, a federal measure, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, was implemented in the mid-1980s and ensured uniformity across the states, setting the age at 21.
Researchers say their data shows that setting the drinking age at 21 saves approximately 900 lives every year. The NHTSA says that these lives are saved due to a reduction in the number of impaired young people behind the wheels of cars. Other studies have confirmed that shifting the drinking age to a lower number would lead to an increase in the overall number of traffic accidents. The CDC estimates that the number of injury-causing accidents would increase by around 10 percent if the drinking age were lowered.
However, experts agree that the current drinking age undoubtedly contributes to the culture of binge drinking that is so pervasive at colleges across the country. By limiting access to alcohol for a large group of American adults, it encourages the voracious consumption of alcohol when the opportunity to drink presents itself.
Some say the issue should not revolve around what age to limit alcohol consumption, but should instead be about educating drivers of all ages about the dangers associated with overconsumption of alcohol. The group, Choose Responsibility, says that it would like states to require an education program similar to driver’s ed for those 18 and older that deals with all aspects of alcohol. By educating drivers, the group believes that the drinking age could be safely lower without a resulting increase in fatalities.
Source: “Drinking age still cause for debate,” published at ColumbiaChronicle.com.