Should the drinking age be lowered from 21 in the United States? This question is making its rounds and is a legitimate question to ask. Before federal law mandated that 21 only laws be passed or funding would be pulled from states, there were several areas that had made it legal to drink as a teenager. It only seems to make sense. If people become adults at 18, why can’t they drink when they’re 18? Someone can join the military and die defending their country, but they can’t legally have a beer.
Statistics In Support of Lowering the Drinking Age
1. Fewer 18-20-year-olds might be drinking, but those that do are drinking more in secret, as well as binge drinking.
2. 29 states already allow underage drinking on private premises if it is with parental consent.
3. 25 states allow for underage drinking if it is done for legal purposes.
4. Between 1970-1976, 30 states lowered their Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) from 21 to 18, 19, or 20.
5. The enactment of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 prompted states to raise their legal age for purchase or public possession of alcohol to 21 or risk losing millions in federal highway funds.
6. The state of Illinois set the legal drinking age for women at 18 after the passing of the 21st Amendment in 1933. It was in place for over 40 years until the Supreme Court ruled that it was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause provided for in the 14th Amendment.
7. Traffic accidents and fatalities are most common among newly-legal drinkers, regardless of the drinking age.
8. There are fewer drunk driving traffic accidents and fatalities in many countries with a minimum drinking age of 18.
9. Since 1982, two years prior to the Uniform Drinking Age Act establishing an minimum drinking age of 21, a decline of drunk driving fatalities occurred across all age groups and demographic categories. The argument for 21 only is that younger age drunk driving accidents reduced by the largest margin of any other age demographic.
10. Underage drinking accounts for 17.5%, or $22.5 billion, of consumer spending for alcohol in the United States.
11. An estimated two of every 1,000 occasions of illegal drinking by youth under 21 results in an arrest, showing that it isn’t a high police priority to enforce the law.
12. In a 2002 meta-study of the legal drinking age and health and social problems, 72% of the studies that were reviewed found that there was no statistically significant relationship to the age of drinking and increased criminal behaviors or suicides despite claims that lowering the drinking age to 18 would increase them.
13. 10% of federal highway funding is directly tied into the drinking age that states have allowed.
14. By 1982, when drunk driving fatality statistics began to decrease, only 14 states still had a 21 only law on the books.
15. There are still 3 states in the US that do not treat the age of 18 as the age of majority.
16. Among drinkers only, 32% of under age compared to 24% of legal age are heavy drinkers.
17. The percentage of kids who cut class so that they can go drinking: 12%.
18. 28% of high school students admit to missing at least one class over the course of a year because they have a hangover.
Some might say that there are other graduated rights that are introduced, so drinking is just in this same grouping. It isn’t legal to own a handgun until 21. It isn’t legal to rent a car until 25. Having alcohol is just the same thing, right? Besides – if kids get behind the car while having a drink, they’re more likely to have an accident.
Here’s what is being missed in this conversation. It’s already legal in many areas of the United States for those under the age of 21 to legally drink. Many times all it takes is a parent’s permission as long as the teen is on their parent’s property. Some states have made it legal to drink for religious purposes. Others have even made the “educational” consumption of alcohol legal. If we can allow these exceptions and not pull federal funding because of it, then why can’t we do the same thing for the 18-20 age demographic?
As the statistics will show, lowering the drinking age isn’t as problematic as many might claim it to be. Will there be a potential increase in drunk driving accidents in the 18-20 age demographic? Most likely there will be. As countries with lower drinking ages have already proven, however, there is also a corresponding decrease in the accident rates in the 20-24 age demographic.
Does Prohibition for Youth Work?
It’s clear that the current system of prohibition is not working. Forget the fact that the federal government is holding states hostage to a 21 only drinking age for a moment. The fact is that underage drinking occurs more often as binge drinking than in any other group. If we want to get serious about kid’s health, which is why we have the higher drinking age, then we need to do something about the heavy drinking issue.
Here’s a radical idea: why not lower the legal drinking age to 6? The average 6 year old isn’t going to run off to the convenience store to spend their allowance on beer. They will, however, have the chance to have their parents teach them what it means to drink alcohol responsibly. A small amount of wine with a meal is common in societies that are outside of the United States. These societies also see lower abuse rates of alcohol. Is this a coincidence? Anything is possible, but the data seems to speak for itself.
Since the 21 only law was enacted, kids are missing school more often because of alcohol as well. Nearly half of students report that they throw up after drinking. A quarter of students are missing classes at least once because of hangovers. The drinking law is clearly not working. It is up to us to put pressure on our elected officials to get their federal hands out of a state’s business and let people make up their own minds. If two states can have marijuana for recreational purposes legalized, then why can’t we change the drinking age to 18, 19, or 20?