Saturday, March 8, 2008

States may lower drinking age

Under a policy first imposed by the Reagan regime, the federal government withholds some highway funds from states that fail to raise their drinking age to 21. As a result, it's 21 now in every state. But now some states are studying whether to lower the drinking age from 21.

It's about time. Almost every other country in the world has a lower drinking age than 21. Yet it's the United States that's seen an increase in irresponsible drinking. National 21 has only made binge drinking among college students under 21 much worse. And while 18-year-old Americans are fighting in Iraq, they're not even allowed to buy beer in their own country for another 3 years. (Ooh, an Allowed Cloud!)

Now Vermont is studying whether to lower the drinking age, and a group in Missouri is collecting signatures to conduct a referendum on it.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is already crying foul. MADD, incidentally, has lost the credibility it once had. MADD's own founder quit the group because she felt it was becoming a prohibitionist organization. Indeed, MADD has absorbed the membership of the temperance movement that had been in decline. And it spouts statistics that are skewed or cannot be sourced or are downright wrong.

While MADD claims drunken driving deaths declined in the mid-'80s as a result of the national 21 policy, this was before most states had complied. In fact, many states had just lowered their drinking ages in the '70s. Several years after almost every state had complied with the national 21 rule, the drunken driving fatality rate went up again. Ruth Engs, a researcher at Indiana University, says alcohol abuse among people under 21 soared when the national drinking age took effect. Countries with lower drinking ages haven't seen as many problems.

In addition to increasing binge drinking and irresponsible boozing in general, the high drinking age creates a real bunker mentality. It has effects on society that have no relation to the law's alleged purpose of highway safety (which the law has been ineffective at dealing with anyway). It creates an atmosphere where everyone is looked at as a criminal and has even encouraged the bowdlerizing of media materials. (I've even seen the word 'beer' censored from a university newspaper.)

Hopefully the national 21 prohibitionism will be halted once and for all. But I wouldn't count on it, because Congress can be pushy.


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