“Should the US lower the minimum drinking age?”

by Walter Olson on November 9, 2012

Former Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole once suggested raising it to 24, which just goes to show that current Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood isn’t the only one with anti-liberty ideas [Amy Alkon, more]

{ 13 comments }

1 John David Galt 11.09.12 at 12:55 am

Lowering it is a good idea. The kind of stupid behavior we see when young adults first drink doesn’t happen in countries with a low (or no) drinking age, like France and Italy.

2 stuhlmann 11.09.12 at 7:01 am

I live in Germany, which allows 16 year olds to legally drink beer and wine. At 18, people can drink whatever they want. I don’t think the rates of drunk driving or alcohol abuse are any higher here. It may help that you have to be 18 to get a drivers license.

3 Ed 11.09.12 at 10:18 am

I also lived in Germany for a while. The cultural attitudes are much different towards drinking. The first time our landloard got caught DUI and lost his license for one year; the second time he lost it for good. He was told if he got caught driving without his license he would go to jail for at least a year.

4 kimsch 11.09.12 at 3:50 pm

There is also the argument that those that are old enough to vote and go into the armed services and fight (or die) for their country ought to be able to drink.

I remember going to Wisconsin to drink when Illinois had a 21 drinking age and Wisconsin had 18 (before they were coerced into changing the drinking age to 21 or lose federal highway funds).

When my mother was in her late teens, the drinking age for girls was 18, the drinking age for boys was 21.

Just before I turned 18 Illinois had beer and wine at 18, hard liquor at 21. My uncle (just 3-1/2 years older than me) had to wait from January 1 to January 28 before he could drink anything legally. He had been drinking beer and wine legally for 3 years…

I lived in Germany for a while too. Part of the reason there isn’t such a problem with younger people drinking is that it is a usual thing – wine with dinner – it isn’t such a novelty for the 18- to 21-year-olds.

5 Anonymous Attorney 11.09.12 at 5:15 pm

The United States shouldn’t have a drinking age, period.

6 JTW 11.10.12 at 4:50 am

There’s a lot of problems with teens drinking excessively in Europe, you just don’t usually hear about them except in local papers because such things are so normal.
“Comadrinking” is popular among teens in several European countries, “parties” where they deliberately drink until there’s only one left conscious. They indeed don’t drink a lot in pubs, too expensive. So instead they use fake ID to buy hard liquor by the box and “predrink” so they’re already stone drunk by the time they hit the pubs for a night of beer and pot.

That said, the government should not restrict such behaviour (they try, they fail, here). Instead parents should do that.

7 bfs 11.10.12 at 10:07 am

Being an old codger, I had to wait until I was 21 to vote. The “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” argument changed the constitution. But it seems to me that creates an equal protection problem with discriminating against 18-21 year olds on the basis of their age. I don’t know if this has been litigated, but shouldn’t something more than a rational basis be required? Oh, and the same problem applies to people 27 and over not staying on their parent’s medical insurance.

8 Hugo S. Cunningham 11.10.12 at 1:42 pm

I have long been promoting a graduated system of teenage “drinking licenses”, to promote and reward responsible habits. For example, in response to a typically prohibitionist guest op-ed in the “New York Times” in 2004, I sent the following (not printed) containing minor revisions):

To the Editor of the “New York Times”:

Instead of tightening an under-21 alcohol prohibition that fosters irresponsibility, binge drinking, and contempt for the law (Jim Gogek’s guest column, Op-Ed, Wed 25 Aug 2004), we should introduce alcohol gradually, in ways that underline safety and personal responsibility.

Our driver’s licensing system (learner’s permits and junior licenses) suggests a more productive approach. We could offer 18-year-olds a distinctively colored (red?) photo-ID “junior drinking license,” but only *after* they pass a tough exam on safe dosages and physiological effects, DWI laws, public intoxication laws, recognizing (and saving) companions in trouble, etc.

Said “junior” license would not be valid for *buying* liquor in sealed containers (eg for dorm parties, or for younger brothers in high school); instead, it would merely allow the holder to be *served* an open drink before, say, 11:00 PM (a) at parties *supervised* by sufficient adults over age 25, (b) at bars and restaurants specially licensed to serve 18-20 year olds, or (c) in the company of their parent or legal guardian, as named on their “junior license.” Said “junior license” would be suspended or revoked for minor alcohol-related offenses.

19-20 year-olds who show good judgement for one year could apply for an “advanced” drinking license. They might be tested for additional skills, eg recognizing and tactfully dissuading drinkers who have already imbibed too much, and enhanced medical knowledge. Holders of this distinctively-colored higher-status license could be served later and have looser supervision requirements, though they still should not be allowed to buy sealed containers of alcohol.

Offering adult treatment for adult behavior would encourage the emergence of responsible and competent drinkers at age 21, such as we see in Chinese and Jewish communities, and in many parts of Europe.

9 Marty Murphy 11.10.12 at 5:31 pm

The problem is NOT teenagers drinking OR teenagers driving. The real problem is teenagers drinking AND driving. They get into more fatal accidents than their more physically and mentally mature older brothers and sisters.

Th solution is simple (but probably not politically possible): lower the drinking age and raise the driving age.

10 John Burgess 11.11.12 at 6:14 pm

I’m with Marty Murphy… lower the drinking age, but raise the driving age. OR… give teens a choice: You can have either a driver’s license or a drinker’s license.

11 No Name Guy 11.12.12 at 12:10 pm

Equal protection / equal responsibility under the law.

If you can vote for the President, Congress, if you can in-debt yourself for a lifetime (signing on for student loans), if you can literally sign your life away (joining the military) then why not have full responsibility for a beer?

Enough with the continued infintalization of young adults. Slap ‘em in the face with the full range of adult responsibilities and hold them accountable for missteps.

Of course, the alternative is equally acceptable to me – raise the voting age, raise the age of consent, the age at which you can sign a binding contract / will, raise the age at which you’re allowed to join the military, etc to a consistent 21.

Pass the amendment, one way or the other.

12 Melvin H. 11.12.12 at 10:29 pm

Just keep in mind that it would take a constitutional amendment to raise the voting age back to 21.

13 D 11.13.12 at 6:35 pm

Thank you John Burgess for an approach I had not thought of – either you can have a driver’s license or drinker’s license.

Hugo, you raise an interesting approach as well. Unfortunately, I expect the proposed requirements would get “watered down”. (I won’t lie. I am not sorry for afflicting you with a bad pun. Humor = pain x distance.)

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