The Debate About Lowering the Drinking Age

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Back in 2003, when then-President George W. Bush's 19-year-old daughter was arrested for underage drinking offenses, the debate about lowering the legal drinking age once again came into the national spotlight.

Jenna Bush's two arrests in less than a month for consuming alcohol and trying to purchase alcohol with a fake identification card, placed the drinking age debate in the national media, with the old argument that if an 18-year-old is old enough to vote, sign contracts, join the armed forces, and get married, he or she should be old enough to drink a beer.

"It's one of the stupidest laws in America," Justin Schmid, 21, a student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas told reporters. "You can be drafted by your country, go to war—yet you can't have a beer. You can be tried as an adult—yet you can't have a beer."

But is it that stupid?

The problem with the arguments for lowering the legal drinking age is it is simply not in the best interest of the public's safety to do so. Underage drinkers are a danger to themselves and others, especially on the highways.

We Tried Lowering the Limit Before

The drinking age was first lowered to 18 in many states back in the Vietnam War era. The country was asking thousands of its young men to fight and die for their country on foreign soil, so the popular thinking was, "How can we ask them to die for their country and not let them have a drink if they want one?"

But the lower drinking age begins to take a toll on the nation's highways. The number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities began to rise at alarming rates and a high percentage of those involved young drivers. Congress again put pressure on the states to raise the drinking age because of this startling increase in highway deaths.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that raising the drinking age to 21 has reduced traffic fatalities involving 18- to 20-year-old drivers by 13 percent and has saved an estimated 19,121 lives from 1975 to 2003. Twenty of twenty-nine studies conducted between 1981 and 1992 reported significant decreases in traffic crashes and crash fatalities following an increase in drinking age.

Higher Drinking Age Simply Saves Lives

Over 40 percent of all the 16-to-20-year-olds who died in 1994 were killed in car crashes, half of which were alcohol-related. The number of intoxicated youth drivers in fatal crashes dropped 14.3 percent from 1983 to 1994—the largest decrease of any age group during this time period—indicating that the higher legal drinking age simply saves lives.

The evidence for keeping the drinking age at 21 is so overwhelming, we doubt that we would have had the debate again in 2003 if Jenna Bush was just another college student, rather than the young, attractive daughter of the President of the United States.

And if she had been arrested for causing an accident in which someone was injured or killed, rather than just trying to use a fake ID, we suspect the national media would have come down on the other side of the lower drinking age debate.

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