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lower the drinking age? are you stoned?

By enelson
Thursday, October 11th, 2007 at 10:38 am in driving, Safety.


All it takes it one College president making a statement about something people are passionate about and suddenly, there’s a movement. And a counter-movement. In the electronic media, anyway.

The academic leader in question was John McCardell, Jr., president emeritus of Middlebury College in Vermont. He must have shrewdly calculated that while he had little chance of getting attention on his own, he’d get lots of help from his numerous opponents.

Which brings us to today, when I find in my inbox a press release from the Governors Highway Safety Association:

Today in Washington, researchers joined MADD to reiterate their support for the 21 Minimum Drinking Age Law. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) strongly supports the law and urges its retention. The Association is active in the “Support 21 Coalition.” According to GHSA Chairman Christopher J. Murphy, “GHSA strongly supports the 21 Minimum Drinking Age Law. Both research and the hands-on experience of state highway safety agencies indicate that this law has saved countless lives. Underage drinking remains a serious problem that needs to be addressed, but lowering the drinking age would be a gigantic step backward for highway safety.”

Hmmm. Who besides a Chico frat chapter would be advocating such a thing?

A bit of searching was required, because McCardell’s crusade hadn’t gotten much ink — until now.

The biggest item I found was in the Chicago Sun-Times, and op-ed that starts with this brilliant line:

If you allow your 15-year-old to drink the occasional glass of wine at the dinner table, does that make you a criminally bad parent — or a European?

Maybe, just maybe, it’s actually a good idea to let your teen have one or two beers while you’re watching the Bears game at home.

Of course, McCardell doesn’t just want to protect European-minded parents. His thing is teaching young adults — 18 and up — to drink responsibly rather than go off to college, to war and to the voting booth being told that they can’t drink. That prohibition, he argues, encourages the 18-to-20 crowd who have been told to “just say no” to say “yes, yes, yes!” once they’ve broken the bonds of parental supervision.

Thus you have binge drinking in colleges and the odd alcohol poisoning death. When I was just a student journalist at the University of Maryland, at a time when the age had recently gone up for beer and wine, I wrote about a senior who burst his esophagus during an elite fraternity coalition’s chugging ceremony. He survived, but was in a coma for two weeks and his mom sued the university.

But the obvious question is, “what about drunken driving?” Haven’t those numbers gone down since Congress threatened to withhold highway funding (what little remains) if all states didn’t peg thier drinking age at 21.

McCardell, who, since the governors group and Mothers Against Drunk Driving got on his case, has gotten much more  press, has an answer for that:

McCardell argues Support 21 is too focused on traffic fatalities and ignores the need for alcohol education.

“They’re dead wrong,” McCardell told ABC News, pointing to other studies that suggest more lives have been lost by 18-to-24-year-olds in alcohol-related incidents off the road.

“To them it’s only about traffic fatalities,” he said.

More to the point, he believes that increased awareness of drunken driving deaths and law enforcement efforts against the actul perps has done much more to lower the DUI numbers than the lower age.

I’m guessing his effort will amount to nothing, but he raises some interesting points, especially for the father of an 18-year-old who’s starting college and getting his driver’s license at the same time.

Photo from Sam Bier’s site on

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7 Responses to “lower the drinking age? are you stoned?”

  1. david vartanoff Says:

    The 21 drinking age merely changes the fake ID and who buys for whom dynamics. If you can’t raise your kids to be smart enough to eschew binge drinking, how can you justify EVER letting them move away to school or work? I remember watching my step daughter consume a couple of beers when she left middle school, she rarely drinks at all at 38. OTOH DUI should be a mandatory license revocation and issuance of a transit pass, Second time HARD TIME.

  2. Doug Faunt Says:

    I’m just glad I’m not a parent. I think drinking, like driving and other high-risk behavior is best started under parental supervision, OTOH, my perception is that too many parents seem to have no feelings of responsibility for their childrens behavior, in any situation.

    And, like David, I think DUI is not punished enough now. I’d give people a second chance, because our infrastructure makes license revocation (as opposed to suspension) a major punishment. A year of suspension would be a pretty good lesson.
    After that, revocation would be fine.

    Note, I spent the night in jail for DUI once, but did learn my lesson.

  3. david vartanoff Says:

    Doug and all. The reason why I want revocation has to do with legal chicanery. Example, an acquaintance got busted for DUI. lawyer gets judge to slap wrist for ‘ist timer’. Second DUI bust, lawyer goes in to original court asks to have 1st case expunged, second time “on paper” becomes 1st time, wrist slapped again.

  4. LPL Says:

    If the government thinks you’re old enough to die for your Country…then you should be old enough to drink.

  5. helen sudul Says:

    Just browsing. I live in Sacramento and 2 acciidents involving teens and alochol.
    Was totally avoidable and it was in early am hours. 3 died.
    It seems they they think the are invincible… So sad… Hollywood isnt helping. Lower
    would only make it worse.

  6. Doug Faunt Says:

    Hi David,
    I mean real second time, not a fake second time. And a year suspension isn’t a slap on the wrist. Just doing away with “legal chicanery” would be an improvement.

  7. Paul Welch Says:

    The United States is one of only 4 countries in the world that has a drinking age of 21. Making it lower teaches kids at a younger age responsible drinking practices, unlike the current system which moves drinking to unsupervised areas such as dorms and private property.If people can fight and die in a foreign war, get married, sign a legally binding contract. then they should be allowed the privileged of drinking alcohol.

    Many opponents of the lower drinking age state that traffic deaths will increase. An article from the American Economic Review challenges this notion and states that raising the drinking age to 21 actually did not raise deaths; taking into consideration that deaths have declined since the drinking age was raised due to better automotive safety and advances in medical technology.

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