Lowering drinking age to 18

by Walter Olson on August 19, 2008

A good idea. And from college presidents! (Baltimore Sun, Seattle P-I blog). MADD, of course, is having a fit. (Philadelphia Inquirer). More (via comments): Adler @ Volokh & further.

{ 1 trackback }

January 12 roundup
01.13.09 at 12:36 am

{ 44 comments }

1 matt 08.19.08 at 6:09 pm

ok i gotta say you can legally own a gun at 18 but your not considered responsible enough to drink please explain this to me

2 smurfy 08.19.08 at 6:31 pm

You know there is a pretty sure way to make sure your college age kids don’t drink and drive. Don’t buy them a car. It took me 3 years of college before I had enough money to buy one on my own, by then i was 21.

3 Matt 08.19.08 at 6:37 pm

What the ought to do is make the drinking age 18, but make drunk driving illegal at 18. And tell the MADD neo-prohibitionists to shut it.

Oh, wait. That’s already illegal. OK, just lower the drinking age and tell MADD to shut it. And stop giving them public dollars.

4 hall monitor 08.19.08 at 6:46 pm

It seems they are using this logic: “The ONLY way to eliminate underage drinking, is by allowing younger people to drink.” All this would do is make it easier for high school students to obtain alcohol. We don’t learn to ‘drink responsibly’ simply when it becomes legal to consume. It comes with maturity, and you can’t really speed that process up.

Hall Monitor
http://detentionslip.org

5 AZFlyer 08.19.08 at 7:36 pm

At 18, you are responsible enough to enter into a contract, give your life for your country and participate in the election process, but you’re not responsible enough to have a beer?

This double standard has irked me since I was a college student. I’m a wise old man now and I still think it stinks. I think it’s particularly insulting to those sub-21ers who would strap on a flak vest and go into harms way in their service to this country.

6 Bill Poser 08.19.08 at 9:21 pm

I don’t believe that responsible drinking comes with maturity if by maturity you mean age. Lots of people continue to drink irresponsibly all their lives. I do strongly suspect, in part on the basis of experience in Europe where drinking is allowed much younger, that if drinking were not made into a reward for attaining nominal adulthood it would not be nearly so attractive.

Furthermore, there are plenty of things that colleges and other organizations that deal with young people could do to cut down on irresponsible drinking. A large part of the problem is the social acceptability of heavy drinking.

7 John Burgess 08.19.08 at 9:23 pm

The problem has not been teen drinking per se, until relatively recently.

The problem is that teens drive–badly–and some of them also drink. Find a way to separate the drinking from the driving and the major problem goes away.

Absolutely throw the book at drunk drivers and you’ll certainly cut down on accidents and deaths. Six month suspension for the first DUI if it doesn’t cause an accident. Two years if only an accident. Life if it involves a fatality. And that’s before fines and jail time in all instances.

I notice a lot of unhealthy looking 30-40 y/os in my part of Florida who are pedaling around on bicycles. They’re getting this exercise because they’ve had their licenses pulled. Seems to be a great plan. While getting hit by a drunken bicyclist may smart or even break bones, I’d rather that than the F-150 coming at me at 60mph, driven by a drunk.

MADD is populated by self-server, self-perpetuating, hysterical lobbyists, IMO. They do happen to have a valid point, though, when it comes to the bad results of mixing drinking and driving.

BTW, there’s a parallel discussion of this going on over at Volokh Conspiracy.

8 Adam 08.19.08 at 11:18 pm

I think that the drinking age should be lowered asap. Seriously, there will be alot less troubles for everyone.

9 Jim Collins 08.20.08 at 9:06 am

A few years ago I was having a beer in the American Legion Post that I belong to, when two men came in at about 11:45PM. You could tell that they were Father and Son. They sat quietly until 12:05 when the Father came up and ordered two beers. He went back to the table and handed one to his son. The bartender asked me if I would go back and check the Son’s ID because she was busy and couldn’t leave the bar (I was an officer of the Post at that time). I went back and talked with them for a bit and found out that the Son was home on leave from Iraq and had to report back later that day. He had just turned 21 at midnight. Pennsylania’s policy is that he couldn’t be served until the club opened the next day. I told the bartender what was going on and she asked what I planned to do about it. I said that I was buying his next beer. 20 years old, an E-5, a platoon leader and this kid wasn’t responsible enough to have a beer? Something wrong there somewhere.

Don’t even get me started on MADD’s role in this. They shouldn’t have one.

10 JT 08.20.08 at 9:17 am

Does MADD realize that at 18, people are old enough to join the army and die for their conuntry, but not old enough to drink? This law is way out of bounds.

11 Deoxy 08.20.08 at 10:15 am

One point many don’t seem to know: 18YOs (and even 17, I think) who are in the army ARE allowed to drink… it’s just not no civilians can sell them any. In an on-post/on-base/on-whatever military place, they can (and DO) drink. Not that it really changes the rest…

And you can put me in the “lower the drinking age” category. Binge drinking is mostly an artifice of obtaining the “forbidden fruit” and proving “adult”-ness. If you look at the rest of the world (where drinking problems are more uniformly distributed and generally lesser on top of that), you’ll notice that drinking is considered a normal thing people do, and children are exposed to that in healthy ways, such that most learn to deal with it BEFORE they are allowed to drive.

Driving a large, potentially dangerous object at high speed is a serious activity that should be reserved for at least somewhat-mature and at least near-adult people.

Drinking what has been a standard form of beverage since literally pre-historic times is not.

12 gitarcarver 08.20.08 at 10:59 am

I’m sorry, but I have always found the “18 year olds can do this….” argument somewhat disconnective.

If we are going to accept the above argument, let’s lower the drinking age to 12 because 12 year olds can murder, rape, father or have kids.

There is a difference between the action, and being mature enough to make the choice to do that action or not.

13 Lance 08.20.08 at 12:07 pm

I think it should be lowered to 18 if your old enough to fight in iraq you should be allowed to drink and you can own a gun at 18 thats stupid. People are goin to drink no matter what and there will always be acciedents so change it.

14 Dave Reid 08.20.08 at 12:15 pm

I want to stop in and say I’m pretty sure I’d disagree with most of what is posted on this site but on this issue “overlawyered” is 100% correct.

15 DAV 08.20.08 at 1:25 pm

I’m a bit torn on this subject. I grew up in Pennsylvania where the drinking age was 21 but I started when I was 17. I walked into bars and order the drinks myself. I wasn’t “carded” until I was 21 and that was in Chicago.

I don’t think my situation was typical, although despite the tricks I learned (no lying needed BTW), it may have been indicative of some-laws-are-made-to-be-broken mentality as I didn’t lose my boyish looks until I was almost 30. Still, there were circumstances that surely would have led to my becoming uninvited. These I learned to avoid. (no need to enumerate)

I had a discussion with a bar owner in Pittsburgh near the Univ. of Pgh campus. He was adamantly against lowering the drinking age. His reasoning: it would cause too much trouble. He may have had a point. The first bar fight (brawl really) I ever saw was after I moved to Maryland where the drinking age was 18. The fights were almost nightly entertainment in more than one bar. Prior to coming to MD, I had been in many bars including some bars in some really bad places. Never saw anything that amounted to more than exchanged words. After MD raised the drinking age, the barfights became nearly extinct.

I can see the argument about having responsibilities at 18 but not being viewed as responsible enough to drink. I don’t buy MADD’s argument at all — mostly because it’s unprovable. But one thing stand out with drinking: it lowers inhibitions. I think most 18-year olds are quite capable as long as they can think clearly. Drinking counters that and the evidence I’ve seen supports it.

Maybe the real answer is for drinking to start at a much lower age as it does in Europe. At least there would be some opportunity for guidance. That won’t fly I guess particularly given the cases of parents arrested for trying it.

Other than that, I don’t know.

16 Jim Collins 08.20.08 at 1:42 pm

Deoxy

When the Federal Government mandated the 21 drinking age, that included military personel on base as well. It is just recently that the Commandant of the Marine Corp, lowered it to 18 for official Marine functions.

17 Paul 08.20.08 at 4:02 pm

Deoxy, in my time int he Corps, the “on base” drinking rules were fit to the locale. In Japan, that means 20. In North Carolina, that means 21. Commanders had the ability to raise the age, but I have never, EVER, been to an E-club that didn’t card people for 21 in states.

18 Deoxy 08.21.08 at 11:09 am

Odd… my wife was in the military, and she and others in her group, who were mostly under 21, were allowed to drink on post, so I’m stating this based on her actual experience (all state-side). That was in the late 90s.

I’m sorry, but I have always found the “18 year olds can do this….” argument somewhat disconnective.

If we are going to accept the above argument, let’s lower the drinking age to 12 because 12 year olds can murder, rape, father or have kids.

You’re missing the point, completely. If by “can” you mean “are capable of”, then infants CAN drink.

The point is that we allow 18YOs to fight and die for their country, to vote, to drive, etc, etc, but we don’t allow them to drink.

That is quite silly. Drinking alcohol requires much less responsibility than driving a car, much less a fighter jet or a tank.

19 Snowman 08.21.08 at 11:59 am

My daughter goes to McGill University in Montreal where the drinking age is 18. After the first few weeks of debauchery, the students accept drinking as a way of life that does not have to be hid or overdone. The book “Binge” which review drinking on 12 prestigious campuses in the US and Canada concludes that students at McGill have far fewer drinking related injuries/rapes/ect. than the other schools with 21 year requirements.

20 Roger Kemper 08.21.08 at 8:48 pm

Finally this issue is back on the table again! I said this ever since it was changed to 21 in Ohio that it was a stupid law and it should stay where it was. Even though at that time i was a minor but I do remember the big controversy and the adults talking about it. It was not the citizens of Ohio’s choice it was the federal government stepping in and saying you change the law or we will revoke your highway fund.

I have no use for MADD Mothers. They act like drinking alcohol is a sin and they do everything possible to get laws in effect that make it harder for people to sit back and enjoy a beer or a drink in any circumstance. Also, they think getting laws in effect to keep alcohol from young adults is the answer. Remember Prohibition…it doesn’t work!

Now stating this… I totally agree moving the age from 21 to 18. Also, in addition to that I think for the under 18 the law should come back if you are with ur parents you can also drink. This is so parents can actually teach a child how to drink responsibly and teach them the actual dangers and what not to do. In Ohio when I was in high school this was an actual law.

I tell you that I did start drinking when I was 16 and that was pretty much every weekend. Doing this I did learn how to drink responsibly and I never did some of the crazy stuff college kids are doing now adays. There were many times when I went to a friends house and the parents would buy us alcohol, took our keys and drank under their supervision. I did this countless times and we just sat around a table, drank, played cards and listen to music. That is the way it should be!! We were safe and stayed out of trouble. Now adays parents can’t do that either because of the laws of providing underage kids alcohol. So what are the kids doing? They are out hiding their drinking and getting into trouble.

I do agree with alot in these blogs… especially, the results of reducing the drinking age to 18 with fewer crimes. Yes, there will still be fights but that happens at any age while people are under the influence and that is usually coming from a deep down behavior issue. I also, believe that with the legalization of pot also but that is a topic for another blog.

21 David Wisniewski 08.22.08 at 10:06 am

While it is silly that while you can go to war at 18 but not buy or consume alcohol, this seems like nothing more than an blatant attempt by the colleges to relieve themselves of enforcing the drinking age on their campuses. This has nothing to do with reducing drinking or saving lives – but making life a little easier for those poor overworked, and overpaid, college administrators.

22 gitarcarver 08.22.08 at 10:28 am

The point is that we allow 18YOs to fight and die for their country, to vote, to drive, etc, etc, but we don’t allow them to drink.

That is correct. You keep trying to say that the being in the military, voting, or driving has some correlation to drinking responsibly.

They do not.

That is quite silly. Drinking alcohol requires much less responsibility than driving a car, much less a fighter jet or a tank.

Drinking requires less responsibility? Is that why we see drunk drivers accounting for the greatest percentage of auto related deaths and injuries? And in case you weren’t aware, the FAA and the military has very strict rules on drinking for their pilots.

The fact of the matter is that even in Europe – those so called “enlightened” conutries where people can drink from birth – binge drinking, deaths from over alcohol poisoning, drunk driving and alcoholism are all on the rise and have been for some time.

Being in the military, driving, and voting has no bearing or correlation on whether a person can drink responsibly.

23 jack 08.22.08 at 2:57 pm

“Being in the military, driving, and voting has no bearing or correlation on whether a person can drink responsibly.” – Being 18, 21 or 65 have no bearing or correlation on whether a person can drink responsibly either.

24 gitarcarver 08.22.08 at 7:20 pm

Being 18, 21 or 65 have no bearing or correlation on whether a person can drink responsibly either.

Except statistically, the age of a person does matter whether a person drinks responsibly.

25 marcelo 08.23.08 at 3:07 am

the 18, 16 y/o drinking age works on the rest of the world, and no other countries abuse it like the youth do here in america because here in america it’s “cool” to drink because minors can’t have it. now, if minors (16+) could drink, it wouldnt be that “cool”, because “hey, this sucks that i’m 18 and at a bar.. and OH! so is this 16 year old kid”

i believe at least 18 for beer and wine, and 21 for hard liquor (more easily abused) would work.
hey, it works everywhere else?

26 gitarcarver 08.23.08 at 3:31 pm

hey, it works everywhere else?

No it doesn’t.

http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/36/17/10

27 eric 08.23.08 at 4:33 pm

hey, it works everywhere else?

No it doesn’t.

http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/36/17/10

thats stupid because of course there is gonna be more teen drinking in countrys where it is legal and in some countrys there is less “binge drinking” and “intoxication in the last thirty days” from the chart which just further proves that other systems work better than our own

28 gitarcarver 08.23.08 at 8:30 pm

which just further proves that other systems work better than our own

So more drinking by teens, more binge drinking by teens, and more intoxication by teens in other countries prove that other systems work better? I am not sure I follow that logic at all.

What the study shows is that the mentality of “kids drink more when drinking is forbidden” is patently false. If you notice, this study was done in 2001. Further studies since then have shown that the trend for teens drinking more, binge drinking more and being intoxicated more in other countries has risen further, while the US has remained fairly constant.

29 Spartan Caver 08.24.08 at 7:07 am

I remember when the age was lowered to 18 for the same arguements I see in this post. I also see the CDC facts that once the age returned to 21, deaths by drunk teenagers went down 60% in the next year. That is 60% less dead teenagers. Some of you might be here posting today because your parents could not easily obtain alcohol. However, I want facts first. One fact is the allready cited 60% drop in death by teen DUI. But I need the facts about what goes on in the rest of the civilized world. What are the death rates in those countries that have no ban on sales to anyone… I have always heard that countries like Italy and other Europen countries where children are weened on waterd down wine, do not have the same “rate” of drunkiness. I want rates ratios % of DUI to driving age population before I side one way or the other. We have got to leave feelings out of this. Death is a fact of life and is final. It is the Purtian feelings that have us in this debate to begin with. So does anyone out there have actual “facts” not just a story about “how when I lived in France”.

30 Cowboy_inuyasha_2023 09.04.08 at 2:37 pm

Seeing that there is legal drinking age in other countries that are under that age of 21 it seems that they really dont have any problems with drinking and even some school’s give in germany out wine in there lunches

31 Marsha Barnes 09.05.08 at 8:47 am

if you can get pregnant, then you should be able to drink!

32 Jim Collins 09.05.08 at 2:15 pm

I think that the CDC needs to stick to disease and get their noses out of everything else.

Here it is plain and simple. The reason given for the 21 drinking age is that people are not responsible enough to handle alcohol until they turn 21. This it hypocracy at its finest. Our legal system is charging 12 and 13 year olds as ADULTS! Are they mature enough to be responsible for their actions? If the answer is yes then the 21 drinking age is pure BS. If you are responsible enough to be put in prison for your actions then you are responsible enough to have a beer. We have people under the age of 21 on Death Row. That is about as responsible for your actions as you can get.

33 bforeal 09.05.08 at 3:37 pm

Being in the military, driving, and voting has no bearing or correlation on whether a person can drink responsibly.” – Being 18, 21 or 65 have no bearing or correlation on whether a person can drink responsibly either

Thank you….

34 Deoxy 09.05.08 at 4:38 pm

The fact of the matter is that even in Europe – those so called “enlightened” conutries where people can drink from birth – binge drinking, deaths from over alcohol poisoning, drunk driving and alcoholism are all on the rise and have been for some time.

Which shows, clearly, that access to alcohol is not the problem: they had that all along, and the problems are only now increasing, after being much lower before (when, you may recall, they already had access).

35 Niblik 09.05.08 at 5:07 pm

I think a large part of the whole underage drinking problems are US cultural issues.

We freak out if any female naughty bits are shown but have no problem with showing tons of graphic violence and language.

There is no history of responsible introduction to alcohol for kids under 21. Other countries make it a small part of family meals and don’t make it a big deal. But in the US, you are a bad person if you drink before you are 21.

No wonder teens are pumped to start drinking; it’s the forbidden fruit and a great way to defy adults.

36 catastrophy 09.16.08 at 8:51 pm

I am 18 years old, That makes me seem a little bias. I see no appeal to drinking, Its just a pain. I can do EVERYTHING but go and buy a beer. If someone my age were to drink it would be in a bar or at my dorm. The chances that it would be in my car are almost zero. Why bother if its legal elsewhere and I can just bring it there. If I drink in my car its illegal now and illegal at home, but at home I would get caught and in serious trouble. And bringing back the I can get killed and fly a fighter plane but not have wine? For the a little while after the change there would be some trouble but after it became the norm then it would be no big deal. It loses a lot of its meaning when its legal.

37 OBQuiet 09.17.08 at 12:17 am

catastrophy.

I could be wrong but in most states, I do not think it is illegal for your to drink at your parents home. I am not sure if they are required to be present. I an not a lawyer and this should not be considered legal advise.

If someone can confirm my belief about the law in PA, I may confess my own parental rules.

38 catastrophy 09.17.08 at 10:18 pm

Well we could call your rules hypothetical. Like If such a think were to happen and be legal I would……. That way there is no legal responsibility on your part.

39 hallie 09.30.08 at 1:35 am

i think that it should remain 21.
my brother and parents survived without drinking.
so can everyone else.

40 john 10.07.08 at 12:27 am

This is by far the most ignorant fight of all fights. Why would you let imature 18 year old kids drink legally? They all already do it illegally, I know I did. That shows right there the maturity level of an 18 year old. I spent two years in another country living by our government rules when they dropped the drinking age to twenty. All hell broke loose and people were going to jail left and right for drunk driving, public urination, disrespect, assualt. The funny thing about the drunk driving part is that we were not even allowed to drive! So, yeah I think it would be a great idea for us to drop the drinking age. That will solve all problems. It might even drop the suicide rate.

41 catastrophy 10.14.08 at 1:00 pm

yes for the first month or so a lot of people would go out of control. But after that the effects of having a lower drinking age would be for the better. And not all 18yos are immature. hell, I know more immature 30+ yo then I do immature under 21s. Some people are mature and others are immature depending on the topic. I don’t believe that lowering the drinking will have long term negative side affects, but I believe that it will either stay the same or help the current problem. The biggest issue is that 21 years is a very long time its 1/4 of your life! why should they have to wait that long? whats the point?

42 catastrophy 11.04.08 at 4:10 am

DAMM!!!! (drunks against mad mothers)

43 Marc Smith 11.15.08 at 12:33 pm

I am an attorney who handles DWI cases in a college town and the solution is simple and will put me out of business. Lower the drinking age to 18, make all DWI offense convictions, including impaired offenses result in a mandatory 30 days in jail for the first offense and at least one year for the second. Mandatory revocation of license until 21 after release from jail. Require all new drivers to be screened for drug and alcohol abuse and deny them a license unless they complete a substance abuse program and then they have to pay for an interlock device that will not allow the car to start unless the driver blows below the legal limit. All drivers will have to consent in writing, co-signed by the parent, to a mandatory jail sentence when they apply for a license if convicted on a plea or trial so there is no wiggling out of mandatory jail sentences. If mental illness is involved, the driver can be committed to a mental institution for 30 days. If you drink and drive you will be incarcerated. If an adult wants to have wine with his meal in a restaurant, tough. The driver can have a soda that night out and watch everyone else drink. Or take the risk and go to jail.

The fact is, teens and young adults are going to drink for the purpose of getting drunk no matter what you do so let’s keep them off the roads and increase the level of alcohol and STD (because kids get drunk to have sex) awareness in high schools and colleges while drastically increasing the mandatory punishments for first time offenders. After the first few thousand do the mandatory 30 days in jail and the word gets around, the problem will abate.

44 catastrophy 11.25.08 at 7:26 pm

that works, it sounds like a good idea, you might want to increase the penalties a bit more but overall its sounds good, if the teens think its just not worth the risk then the amount of illegal activities drops. Most people over the age of 21 believe that it should stay the way it is. because it does not effect them anymore and they don’t want it to change. The risk is pretty high but the rewards are on the same level. I have to go for now, ill finish up later. class :P

Comments on this entry are closed.