For the third year in a row, I am spending the second week of June doing European history work and reading at Colorado State University. It is safe to say that I love this college town; it has all of the ingredients one would want: shops, bookstores, restaurants, bars, live music, and outdoor recreational spots. Moreover, there is a healthy relationship between CSU and Ft. Collins. I like to spend my mornings on a run through downtown. The community of Searcy, AR — where I went to school, was not a college town; it was an ideal place for those ready to get married, have kids, and build a picket fence for the dog; it rested in a very conservative community that was dry. Better yet, I am sure the Temperance Movement held its annual meetings there. With the exception of Race Street, it had some pedestrian qualities to it.
One of the questions that came up last night and has come up before is that of alcohol: academics here at this meeting and every other meeting I attend believe that the drinking age of 21 is too old. They contend that it should be lowered to 18. There are two ways of looking at the conversation brewing among academics: on one hand, the Puritanical nature of restricting alcohol as some moral and biblical sin is false and unjustified; I do know that a number of religious conservative bodies (Ex: Southern Baptist & church of Christ) illustrate via teaching that anything bad for the temple (or body) that God created is bad in general. Keep in mind that the United States is driven by fast food. I have read and studied the Bible; it says nothing about the evils of alcohol. Schools that restrict this such as my alma mater (Harding University) and Baylor University, as well as countless others due to scripture, are practicing the art of in loco parentis.It is hard to imagine that there are institutions that restrict the consumption of alcohol by adults.
The Puritanical nature and treatment of alcohol vis-à-vis temperance has not worked. Young people have not seen the consumption of wine or beer modeled to them at home. Thus, they seek to consume alcohol in an irresponsible way. Academics and college presidents have pushed to review the “18” and “21” drinking matter. They seem to think the current age limit exacerbates the problem by pushing the drinking “underground” and making it more dangerous. But some are accusing these officials of wanting to shirk their responsibility to enforce the laws. Then there’s the problem of a young person’s brain not being fully developed until 25. Whether the legal age is 21 or 18, the risk-taking behavior will be part of the equation.
People fail to realize that the Constitution does not set age limits on drinking. That is a 10th Amendment issue. However, the federal government has influenced states to set the limit at 21 if it hope to receive federal dollars on highways. In essence, this is part of the political nature that has caught the true attention of college presidents:
The college presidents supporting the initiative have signed a statement that does not specifically call for the drinking age to be reduced from 21 to 18, but seeks a debate of the law that tied states’ adoption of 21 as the legal drinking age to eligibility for federal highway funds. The statement does indicate that the presidents believe the laws are not working on college campuses, where they say a “culture of dangerous, clandestine binge drinking” has taken hold.
There seems to be two major arguments about this matter. Argument for the change is this:
The United States has the highest legal drinking age in the world. Most countries allow people to drink at 16 or 18 years of age. Others, like China, Portugal, and Vietnam, have no minimum drinking age at all.
Legislators argue that men and women who are old enough to vote, get married, adopt children, purchase firearms, and defend our country can be trusted to drink responsibly. Libertarian groups and some conservative economic foundations have long advocated for lowering the drinking age, and in recent years many academics and non-partisan policy groups have joined the cause.
Proponents of the idea argue that the current law has forced youths to hide and sneak alcohol, which means lawmakers and responsible adults have no control over underage drinking. These groups argue the law doesn’t actually reduce drinking among people under 21 years of age, which renders the law ineffective. In support of their position, they point to the federal government’s 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which found that 85 percent of 20-year-old Americans had used alcohol. Two out of five said they had binged (on five or more drinks at one time) within the previous month.
By offering better education and taking away the appeal of doing something “forbidden,” some groups believe a lower drinking age will actually keep people safer. Nonprofit group Choose Responsibility proposes lowering the drinking age to 18, but only in conjunction with “drinking licenses” and mandatory alcohol education. The group believes this change would educate young people about how to drink responsibly with the oversight and guidance of older adults. [see reference note]
An argument against the change:
During the Vietnam War era, 29 states lowered the drinking age to 18, reasoning that thousands of men and women were dying for their country without even having the right to drink legally. Within a short time, the lower drinking age resulted in a significant increase in alcohol-related traffic fatalities.
Those who oppose the lower drinking age argue the law saves lives. Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s review of nearly 50 peer-reviewed studies, it found that lowering the minimum drinking age to 18 increases fatalities by 10 percent.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says laws setting the drinking age at 21 have cut traffic fatalities involving drivers ages 18-20 by 13 percent and have saved an estimated 19,121 lives since 1975. When Vermont voted to increase the age in 1985, alcohol-related traffic fatalities reportedly dropped by 40 percent, according to Vermont State Police. Since alcohol is still the leading cause of death among teenagers in highway crashes, activist groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving argue the law is serving a valuable purpose.
Since states would pay a high price – 10 percent of their federal highway funds – to lower the drinking age, it is unlikely the movement will gain any ground. In most states, the legislative efforts have died without much support. Some organizations are hoping to reopen the issue for the 2010 election. [see reference note]