Argument: The 21 drinking-age lowers drunk-driving deaths

Issue Report: Lowering US drinking age from 21 to 18


Sean Flynn. “Should The Drinking Age Be Lowered?”. 12 Aug. 2007 – Mothers Against Drunk Driving was the main force behind that 1984 law. It now dismisses McCardell as a dangerous gadfly. “Holy cow, this literally involves life and death,” says Charles A. Hurley, MADD’s chief executive officer. “Life-and-death issues of kids are really too important for off-the-cuff musings.”

MADD and other supporters of the 21 law—who far outnumber the critics—point to, among other things, a ream of studies showing a strong correlation between a higher drinking age and a reduction in drunk-driving wrecks involving teenagers. Indeed, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that nearly 25,000 fewer Americans have died on the road because of the higher age. “We already did the experiment of lowering the drinking age [in the 1970s], and traffic crashes went up,” says Ralph Hingson of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a former MADD vice president. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to go back and repeat a policy that made things worse.”

“State’s drinking age should remain 21”. Star Tribune. April 5, 2008 – “In 2006, one in 10 drivers involved in crashes were 21 or under, and more than 600 people were killed or injured by an impaired underage driver.”

“Drinking age saves lives, is good policy”. The Daily Tar Heel. 3 Oct. 2007 – Numerous studies show that the law saves at least 900 lives a year in reduced traffic fatalities.

“Why 21?”. 2Much2Lose, a non-profit dedicated to fighting under-age drinking– “Back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s a number of states lowered their drinking age from 21 to 18. In many of these states, research documented a significant increase in highway deaths of the teens affected by these laws. So, in the early 1980’s a movement began to raise the drinking age back to 21. After the law changed back to 21, many of the states were monitored to check the difference in highway fatalities. Researchers found that teenage deaths in fatal car crashes dropped considerable – in some cases up to 28% – when the laws were moved back to 21. Like it or not, it is clear that more young people were killed on the highways when the drinking age was 18.”

But Mark Rosenker, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board – “Why would we repeal or weaken laws that save lives? It doesn’t make sense.”[1]

The problem with the arguments for lowering the legal drinking age is it is simply not in the best interest of the public’s safety to do so. Teenagers who drink are a danger to themselves and others — especially on the highways.

Buddy T. “The Lower Drinking Age Debate”. November 23, 2003
We Tried It Before
The drinking age was first lowered to 18 in many states back in the Vietnam War era. The country was asking thousands of its young men to fight and die for their country on foreign soil, so the popular thinking was, “How can we ask them to die for their country and not let them have a drink if they want one?”

But the lower drinking age begin to take a toll on the nation’s highways. The number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities began to rise at alarming rates, and a high percentage of those involved young drivers. Congress again put pressure on the states to raise the drinking age because of this startling increase in highway deaths.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that raising the drink age to 21 has reduced traffic fatalities involving 18- to 20-year-old drivers by 13 percent and has saved an estimated 19,121 lives since 1975. Twenty of twenty-nine studies conducted between 1981 and 1992 reported significant decreases in traffic crashes and crash fatalities following an increase in drinking age.

Simply Saves Lives
Over 40 percent of all the 16-to-20 year olds who died in 1994 were killed in car crashes, half of which were alcohol-related. The number of intoxicated youth drivers in fatal crashes dropped 14.3 percent from 1983 to 1994 — the largest decrease of any age group during this time period — indicating that the higher legal drinking age simply saves lives.