Should the Drinking Age Be Lowered?

There was a time when states had lowered the drinking age to 18.

Some years later, due to “public outrage” over the number of teenage road deaths (mainly from M.A.D.D.) the federal government set the age, for all states back to 21.

There’s a new poll out that asks if the age should be lowered. By a wide margin, 74/25, the answer is “no”.

States started lowering the age to 18 near the end of the Vietnam war. The reasoning? If we can send 18-19 year olds to kill and be killed, why shouldn’t they be able to have a legal drink here in the U.S.? So, many states changed their laws.

As the years progressed though, many, if not most of the alcohol related accidents and deaths on the road were blamed on these laws. Organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) were formed and lobbied the government to change the laws back to 21 being the legal age.

Is there a reason that someone that’s 21 is more mature and able to make better decisions as to alcohol consumption than someone that’s 18?

Are there any statistics that show the above? Sure there are. They conflict with one another though. Let me give you a long copy-pasta from this article:

The record is mixed. Many studies confirm that since the drinking age was standardized at 21 in 1984, the overall number of alcohol-related fatalities for those aged 18-20 has decreased. However, this pattern of decline began in the early 1970s, years before passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. Though organizations like MADD claim the 21 year-old drinking age has saved over 21,000 lives since the mid-1980s, its is impossible to assert a cause and effect relationship between the change in the law and the decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities; many other factors, such as safer vehicles and more stringent drunk driving laws have played an undeniably important role (see below). Several scholars have also presented the important argument that while deaths on the road may have declined sharply among 18-20 year-olds in the years following enactment of the 21 year-old drinking age, the slowest rate of decline and greatest number of annual fatalities is seen each year in the 21-24 age group. In 2002, for example, twice as many 21 year-olds died in alcohol-related auto accidents as 18 year-olds. Such a staggering statistic speaks volumes: a policy that claims to be saving thousands of each year may simply be re-distributing deaths over the life cycle to the point at which it becomes legal to drink alcohol—age 21.

So, what do you think?

2 thoughts on “Should the Drinking Age Be Lowered?

  1. I think a lower drinking age would bring about some quality change.

    There’d hopefully be fewer kids feeling like they need to “sneak” drinks or go to potentially dangerous or out-of-the-way places to drink (with potentially less-than-responsible company.) Many of them want to drink, let’s *help* them learn about and experience drinking in a manner that their peers may not be able to healthily convey.

    My 2¢ :]


  2. Tough question. Off the top of my head, I’d support lowering it to 18. But I haven’t reviewed the literature, so I don’t know whether there is compelling evidence that 21 is better than 18. My hope is that our elected officials would base policy decisions on the best available data and not on which activist group howls the loudest.


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