On Lowering the Drinking Age

Reason TV presents a short video discussing the current drinking age across the US, and whether there is any merit in maintaining the drinking age at 21 instead of one lower.

Today, we all take the drinking age for granted, but should we? In fact, the US is one of only four countries in the world with a drinking age as high as 21—the other three are Indonesia, Mongolia and Palau.

Is the policy working to reduce health and safety issues related to youthful alchohol abuse? Is enforcing the drinking age the best use of scarce public resources? What are the unintended consequences of alcohol prohibition for 18-20 year olds?

Organizations such as Mother Against Drunk Driving (MADD) argue that the drinking age is an effective policy and that the answer to ongoing alcohol related problems for 18-20 year olds is more education and better enforcement.

John McCardell, president of Choose Responsibility, and 135 university presidents and chancellors across the country believe it’s time to take a fresh look at the drinking age. The former president of Middlebury College and the new head of Sewanee/University of the South, McCardell says our current system encourages unsupervised binge drinking.


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  1. #1 by Eric Paine on Thu 08 Apr 2010 - 16:57

    Most states in the nation adopted a minimum drinking age of 21 soon after federal passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which required states to maintain a minimum drinking age of 21. Under the Federal Aid Highway Act, States were required to enforce the minimum drinking age of 18 in order to avoid a 10% reduction in federal highway funds. The original intention of the law was to reduce the incidents of alcohol-related accidents among people under 21. But since passage of this legislation, and the raising of the drinking age in many states, the percentage of people who drink between the ages of 18 to 20 has skyrocketed. Many say the prohibitions have actually encouraged secretive binge drinking, more dangerous behavior, and less educational programming targeting this age group. Respected law enforcement officials and university presidents have recently called for changes in the federal law to permit states to lower the drinking age.

    At age 18, people are legal adults. As much as their parents may think otherwise, they are no longer children. They have the right to vote and help choose the President of the United States. They can go to war to defend our country, and they can legally purchase guns and cigarettes. It is absolutely absurd that they cannot have a beer or glass of wine without fear of possible arrest and prosecution.

    It’s time for the nation to repeal these Prohibition-era laws and adopt a more intelligent, progressive, and educational approach to drinking among younger adults. These laws simply don’t work, they aren’t enforceable any longer, and if anything they are counterproductive. Literally millions of responsible young adults are already consuming alcohol and that’s not going to change. What we need to do is stop wasting the taxpayers money chasing, charging and prosecuting responsible young adults who want to have a beer, and start putting the money where it ought to be, in promoting smart education about responsible drinking, and in pursuing far more serious criminals, including those at all ages who drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

    Eric Paine
    President & Founder
    Drink At 18

  2. #2 by karmadillo on Mon 01 Nov 2010 - 22:35

    second this. Teach kids to drink responsibly by example, not by prohibition until the magic age of 21.

  3. #3 by Mark Besson on Thu 04 Nov 2010 - 12:21

    I agree that 18 year olds are considered adults. An age does not mean they are actually ready to accept, preform and handle the responsibilities of an adult.Just like a new job, you must be taught how to do the job. Young 18 year olds must be taught how to be an adult.
    Any military person can drink at the age of 18 on any military base overseas. Special occasions here in the states can allow 18 year olds the ability to drink on military bases, providing the Commanding Officer allows it and follows special guidelines.
    Lowering the drinking age to 18 has proven to be a killer among young adults through out history. The National Study of Adolescent Drinking Behavior found in 1978, that high school students in the 10th to 12th grade drank more and more often. This can lead to lack of brain development among these young adults. An increase of traffic deaths also were noted in the study, along with suicide, damage to private property, and addiction to other drugs.
    Lowering the drinking age is not the answer for these youths. during this tough time, we need these youths to think about their future and to help change America back into the super power we once were. Allowing them to drink legally will only cause us to loose some of the brightest people among us. Youths are impressionable and allowing them to walk into any bars and kill themselves with alcohol does not do them any good or their families any good. lets help the upcoming presidents, congressman, CEO’s and etc. to a bright future and a successful one, without the fear of alcohol addition and fatalities from a 18 year old drunk driver.

    • #4 by The Republican Heretic on Sun 14 Nov 2010 - 22:42

      Teetotaling is not going to protect our superpower status. I see no rationale behind banning an activity among legal adults because you’re worried about drinking among high school students. If anything, it has been suggested that our strict stance against alcohol consumption has let to a culture of encouraging drinking to get drunk. European countries in which alcohol is not stigmatized do not have the alcoholism rates that we do here.

      Furthermore, your argument that we should prevent legal adults from drinking because they might kill a future president verges on absurd. We can ban everything from kitchen knives to plastic bags because of who might be killed with them. We can also consider that plenty of people killed by drunk drivers are killed by people over the age of 21. It makes no sense to place such an arbitrary restriction on legal adults that are otherwise afforded all legal rights and responsibilities. This is a tired leftover of Prohibition that we are best left without.

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