Drugs and Society
Discussion Paper 2
Drinking Age: 21 or 18?
Some of the most overlooked types of drugs are those that are legal. Specifically, alcohol is one of the most widely used drugs in the world, and yet, many people don’t think of this substance upon hearing the word “drug.” This drug contributes to significantly more deaths than some illegal drugs such as marijuana (which has not been reported to cause any deaths), and yet alcohol is still legal. On the flipside, alcohol is outlawed for minors under the age of 21, while Americans can vote, consume tobacco, serve jury duty, get married, and even be prosecuted as adults at the age of 18. Through an analysis of the effects of the drinking age in America being 21 versus 18, this essay will show why the drinking age should be lowered. I will assess the key arguments on both sides of the issue. Those arguments will revolve around safety. The two sides of the safety issue largely have to do with the maturity of 18-year olds and how they relate to driving in addition to the hazards of binge drinking.
The biggest argument that most proponents of the current drinking age use is that lowering the drinking age would be unsafe. Not only would it be unsafe for the 18-20 year olds who would be able to legally drink, but it would also be unsafe for people who are on the road. This argument rallies around the idea that lowering the drinking age would lead to more drunk drivers than there currently are. In fact, studies have shown that starting two years after the drinking age was lowered in 1986, the percentage of weekend nighttime drivers with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher has decreased from 5.4% to 2.2% (Drinking Age ProCon). Additionally, there have been studies that have shown the raising of the drinking age from 18 to 21 to have saved 27,052 lives over the span from 1975-2008 (Drinking Age ProCon). It seems clear that lowering of the drinking age would be extremely dangerous to everyone on the roads. These are numbers that really jump off the page and seem very relevant to this heated debate. However, these arguments beg the question that asks was it actually the lowering of the drinking age that caused safer driving? The answer is no, these number are superficial that if taken at face value create the illusion of a strong argument.
The fact of the matter is that the raising of the drinking age probably helped to reduce drunk driving, but it is also just the nature of how alcohol interacts with our society in addition to how the culture in our country was changing. By mentioning “how alcohol interacts with our society,” I mean that no matter what the age, when people are first introduced to alcohol, it is going to have similar effects. In 2009, 35% of fatal car crashes having to do with a blood alcohol level over .08 happened to 21-24 year old people. These are the folks who have just been legally exposed to alcohol and despite being of age, they contribute to the most amount of drunk driving fatalities than any other age group (Drinking Age ProCon). In fact, despite 72.2% of 12th graders having said to have drank alcohol before and underage drinking accounting for 17.5% ($22.5 billion) of alcohol sales; it is 21-24 year olds that cause the most fatal car accidents due to drinking and driving (Drinking Age ProCon). This goes to show that it isn’t the actual age of the people who are drinking that leads to drunk driving, but the age with which the law legalizes drinking that leads to drunk driving. If the drinking age were to be lowered to 18, the bulk of accidents due to drunk driving would be displaced to the 18-20 year olds, instead of 21-24 year olds. Clearly, this is not ideal. However, one must accept that in the first few years of legal drinking, drunk driving will increase. It is just a matter of deciding when those first few years come and when we face those inevitable years of irresponsible drinking. The arguments surrounding drunk...
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