young man with head on steering wheel caught drunk drivingThere have been various criticisms over the years regarding the minimum legal drinking age of 21 in Virginia. These laws that established the legal minimum drinking age are believed to be some of the most successful traffic safety countermeasures implemented over the past 40 years. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), it is estimated that 900 lives are saved each year due to these laws, which totals more than 43,000 lives since 1975.

Studies of Teenage Drivers Proved Effectiveness of Setting Drinking Age at 21

Minimum legal drinking age laws came about after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. At that time, many of the states established the minimum legal drinking age at 21. However, when the voting age was dropped to 18, some states also lowered the drinking age to 18 or 19. The difference among the state laws made it easy to see the effectiveness of laws that set the drinking age to 21.

Various studies conducted in the 1970s and 1980s revealed major increases in alcohol-related accidents involving 18 to 20-year-olds in the states that had lowered the drinking age.  As a result, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act (Title 23 U.S.C. §158) was signed into law in 1984. Research has shown that this federal law has been a crucial factor in decreasing the number of alcohol-related accidents. 

From 1982 to 1998, the number of drunk driving accidents involving drivers under the age of 20, declined by 59 percent. The NHTSA report that reflected this decline also stated that “(Minimum Legal Drinking Age) laws clearly reduced youth drinking and driving. They appear to have done so by reducing youth drinking directly and by encouraging youth to separate their drinking from their driving.”

We Don't Want to Go Back!

Even with the research and evidence that has supported the laws that have established the minimum legal drinking age, there have been various movements to try to lower this age.  Some of the arguments have included such statements as the federal government exercises too much control and that people who can vote and serve in the military should also be able to drink alcohol. Others argue that 19 and 20-year-olds are drinking anyway and if it is legalized, at least they will be drinking in a controlled setting.

Regardless of the controversy surrounding the minimum legal drinking age laws, one fact is for certain—drunk driving accidents are to blame for thousands of deaths across the country.  When a drunk driver is involved in an accident, the outcome can be devastating.

Richard A. Dulaney
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Richard has over 30 years of experience in personal injury law.

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