Eighteen. It’s the age that you are finally allowed to vote and play a part in deciding the country’s future. It’s also the age that you can legally purchase a lethal firearm. At eighteen, you are allowed to enlist in the military where you can risk your life to serve your country. But for heaven’s sake, whatever you do don’t have an alcoholic beverage when you come back after a tour of duty. No, you have to be 21 to do that.
The United States is currently one of five counties in the entire world with such a high drinking age. Why, then, are 18-year-old Americans mature enough to drive, smoke, vote and serve but not mature enough to enjoy a glass of wine? Does three years really make that much of a difference to a young adult’s decision making abilities?
After the 18th Ammendment was repealed and the era of prohibition ended, the legal drinking age varied from state to state. But, for the better part of the 20th century, it was never as high as 21. It was only in 1984, when the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed, that the legal drinking age was raised to 21 across the country.
What happened in the 1980s to bring this about? The National Minimum Drinking Age Act was the Federal Government’s response to an alleged rise in motor vehicle fatalities, particularly among those aged from 15-20. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website, alcohol related traffic accidents have in fact steadily declined since the 1980s. So, the higher minimum drinking age seems to have done its job. Whether or not this decrease is actually statistically significant, still remains to be seen. Furthermore, motor vehicle crashes, involving alcohol or not, still remains the leading cause of death among Americans aged 15-20 despite the drinking age, according to the NHTSA.
What about the aspects of underage drinking that the minimum drinking age act has actually worsened? The National Institutes of Health have estimated that in 2011 there were well over 10 million underage drinkers in America and 39% of them were in the 8th grade!
The drinking age in America has done nothing to sway the prevalence of rising trends in binge drinking and alcohol related sexual assaults. If anything, the drinking age in America has only exacerbated these problems further. It encourages underage drinking in dangerous and uncontrolled environments and it makes the prospect of alcohol all the more enticing. Furthermore, a law that is clearly so widely disregarded and disrespected only encourages the disregard and disrespect of other laws.
If the rest of the world can make a drinking age of 18 work, why can the same not be done here?