May 19, 2010
Guest post by Jamese Slade, NCCU Summer Intern
Drinking alcohol seems to be the only thing that adults over the age of 18 can’t do that a 21 year old can. At 18 people can vote, hold public office, serve in the military, marry, sign contracts, buy cigarettes, and even drink in most other countries.
But there is clear evidence that changing the U.S. drinking age to 21 prevented some traffic fatalities per year in the 18-20 age group in the early 1980s. On the other hand, "there is much less drunk driving now by all
ages (including youths) than when the national drinking age of 21 was established," Cook said.
On the second day of a two-day forum on college student drinking and drug use sponsored by the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, researchers focused on arguments for and against the lowering of the minimum drinking age, and the effects of alcoholism on universities.
Duke public policy professor Philip Cook said the improvement in traffic safety was just one of the benefits of the higher drinking age, but that benefit has declined over time. For example, for reasons unrelated to the
minimum drinking age, alcohol consumption among high school seniors has declined by 50 percent since 1981, he said.
One thing that would argue for a lower drinking age is an examination of death rates from homicide and vehicle accidents, Cook said. There isn't much difference between 18- to 20-year-olds (who cannot drink legally) and 21- to 24-year-olds. Both groups have about 16 homicides per 100,000 and 30 vehicle deaths per 100,000.
The real change comes around age 25, he said. For that reason, you might argue that the drinking age should be raised to 25 or older, Cook said, where there were only 6 homicides and 16 motor vehicle accidents per 100,000. "Of course there is no support for raising the age, because everyone accepts 21-25 year olds as 'adults.' If the US were consistent about the definition of adulthood, then 18-20 year olds would have the right to drink."
To ease the effects of a reduced age on safety, taxes on alcohol could be raised instead, Cook said. "Raising alcohol tax reduces alcohol abuse, for the population as a whole and youths." He also suggested that people under the age of 21 could be limited to purchasing weak beer or get drinking licenses.
His bottom line -- states should be given the right to make their own rules when it comes to the minimum drinking age, just as suggested by the 21st Amendment.
UPDATE -- Slides and videos from conference speakers are available online.
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