Lowered drinking on the horizon
September 11, 2008
Filed under Opinion
For many youths in the United States turning 21 is a golden ticket to bars and nightclubs, a bold and often unexplored territory for them. In the works are potential laws that can change all that by lowering the drinking age to 18.
Before 1984 when Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, 29 states in the US had drinking ages as low as 18. Within the next four years, all 50 states adopted legislation to raise the minimum drinking ages to 21, rather than lose Federal highway funds. The Supreme Court upheld the Act in 1987, with South Dakota v. Dole, saying that Congress acted within their boundaries to make such demands with Federal funds.
Today, many states have zero-tolerance “Use/Lose” laws, which sets the legal limit for anyone driving under the age of 21 as .02. That’s the normal blood alcohol content of someone who has not been drinking at all. (Underage drivers should be warned that some energy drinks have slight alcohol content and can lead to a failed Breathalyzer.) Anything over .02 for minors can lead to having licenses suspended or even revoked, which could be until the individual turns 21.
In comparison to the rest of the world, the United States could be considered unreasonable in their laws. According to the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP), just seven of the 119 countries surveyed have legal purchasing limits of 21 or higher; in two of those countries, purchasing alcohol is partially outlawed, and in two it is fully outlawed. In select states in India, the legal purchasing age is 25, while in Gambia and Pakistan, only the non-Muslim population can purchase alcohol. In Brunei and Libya alcohol is completely prohibited.
Some colleges disagree with the current drinking age, believing that if the legal age were lowered to just 18, campuses could better regulate alcohol, preventing intoxicated students from making poor choices. Choose Responsibly, a nonprofit organization currently circulating a petition to lower the drinking age, was started by John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont. Unfortunately, the group does not have any plans at the moment to lobby Congress about the current law, instead intending to start a national debate and grass roots movement over the issue.
Support for keeping the drinking age the same comes from groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the American Medical Association, with others, collectively known as Support 21. Their biggest fear is that by lowering the drinking age, they will open the door to more drunk driving fatalities on the road.
Should the legal drinking age be lowered? Unlike the 1970′s, when young men in the United States were drafted to Vietnam, the draft isn’t such a problem today. Young adults in the military are allowed to drink on the bases only, so dying dry for their country isn’t as big a problem as getting their GI bill paid out.
Many young people don’t know their personal limit, as in how much alcohol they can drink and still function reasonably. However, with alcohol education specifically designed for youths and stricter laws on driving, such as stricter licensing for anyone under 18, why should there be a problem if the United States decides to finally catch up with the rest of the world?