25 July 2011
Lower the Minimum Legal Drinking Age to 18
Lowering the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) of 21 to 18 is a heavily debated topic in the US. Currently, the MLDA is widely believed to save lives by reducing traffic fatalities among underage drivers. Further, the federal Uniform Drinking Age Act (FUDAA), which pressured all states to adopt an MLDA of 21, is regarded as having contributed enormously to this life saving effect. It is also believed that the legal drinking age of 21 plays a major role in preventing adolescents from consuming alcohol. However, the legal drinking age of 21 just isn’t working. It is the lone exception to the legal age of adulthood in the US while in nearly all cultures alcohol consumption is coincident with the legal age of adulthood. Not only has the law failed at its goal of keeping young people from excess alcohol use, but the evidence that the MLDA of 21 is solely responsible for preventing alcohol related traffic fatalities is faulty. Therefore, it is only fair that the legal drinking age be lowered to 18 to be consistent with the other legal rights that one encounters upon adulthood. In the article, “Does the Minimum Legal Drinking Age Save Lives?” Miron and Tetelbaum state that in 1984 the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act (FUDAA) was signed by President Ronald Regan. This act threatened to withhold 10 percent of federal highway funds from states that did not prohibit selling alcohol to those under the age of 21. Though most states argued that it was an unjust act, pressuring them to raise their legal drinking age to 21, the court argued that lowering traffic fatalities among those ages 18-20 was sufficient enough to enforce the FUDAA (317). After that law passed, by 1988, 49 states had complied; and after years of court fights, Louisiana surrendered and joined the other states in 1995 (Johnson). Further, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in agreement with FUDAA, reported large declines in traffic fatalities to traffic safety policies, particularly the MLDA of 21. “NHTSA estimates the cumulative number of lives saved by the MLDA21 at 21,887 through 2002” (Miron and Tetelbaum 317). However, in the article, “Does The MLDA Save Lives?” the NHTSA’s view that the MLDA21 reduces traffic fatalities is challenged based on three findings. First, the overall impact estimated in earlier research is driven by states that increased their MLDA prior to any inducement from the federal government. Second, even in early-adopting states, the impact of the MLDA did not persist much past the year of adoption. Third, the MLDA has at most a minor impact on teen drinking. (Miron and Tetelbaum 317) Though it is difficult to argue that the legal drinking age of 21 didn’t play a role in reducing traffic fatalities, there are other factors that contributed to the decrease in traffic fatalities as well. Over the past 20 years there has been a tremendous increase in awareness aimed toward lowering drunk driving. For example, the term, “designated driver” wasn’t even introduced until the mid-80’s which was when the MLDA of 21 was enforced. It should also be pointed out that a massive amount of education in regards to the dangers of drinking and driving has been spread through groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the alcohol beverage industry and state governments around the same time that the drinking laws came into effect. There is no doubt these campaigns have played a significant role in raising awareness, although it is difficult to measure their exact impact (“Drinking Age Limits”). Furthermore, the use of seatbelts has increased from “14% in 1983 to 80% in 2004” (“Myths and Realities”). In addition, since 1984 cars have been made safer; equipped with airbags that have been proven to limit injury. Therefore, the MLDA of 21 was not solely responsible; instead, all of these changes have played a part in decreasing...
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