New Push to Lower the Drinking Age Clashes With Teen Driving Safety

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Recently, more than 100 college presidents signed the Amethyst Initiative , calling for “an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21 year old drinking age.” But this new push to re-lower the drinking age clashes with teen driving safety:

For 24 years, the U.S. government, through its control of road construction money, has enforced a minimum drinking age of 21 years old. States that refused to comply can lose 10% of their federal road money. Since 1988, all 50 states have toed the line, enforcing a prohibition against drinking for people between 18 and 21 who are in nearly every other way legal adults.

During roughly the same period, from 1982 to about 1994, the number of annual alcohol-related traffic fatalities among people ages 16 to 20 began to decline from about 5,200 a year in 1982 to about 2,100 in 1994, according to data from the U.S. government’s Fatal Accident Reporting System. Since the mid-1990s, the number of alcohol-related crashes among drivers ages 16 to 20 has leveled out. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, using its own counting methods to tally crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol levels above the current 0.08 legal limit, says that in 1996, 1,359 drivers between ages 16 and 20 died in alcohol-related crashes. In 2006, 1,350 teen drivers died in crashes linked to drinking.

If our actual concern is college-age kids drinking and driving, then it seems like our focus should be on drinking and driving — not one or the other.

For instance, in a city with well-developed mass transit, like New York, how dangerous is it to let 18-year-olds drink (legally)?

If you know college kids are going to drink, and your chief concern is drunk-driving, why not license residence halls to operate pubs? Keep an eye on drinking and know that no one is going to drive home drunk.

But that’s assuming our concern really is drunk-driving.

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