Periodically the movement to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18 gains momentum and press coverage.  The most recent burst of activity on this front was ignited by a petition, signed by over 100 college presidents, asking legislators to reduce the drinking age.  Why are college presidents so interested in a lower drinking age?  Don’t they want to stop binge drinking on campus – underage or not?  And how will a lower drinking age solve that problem?

Well, the logic is that if students can drink legally, they won’t drink to excess and they won’t drink in private, remote locations that can’t be properly supervised.  In addition, if drinking were legal at a younger age, colleges and universities might be less exposed to costly lawsuits, like one in September 2000 that cost MIT $6 million after a freshman died in a case of alcohol poisoning.

While these presidents may think that a lower drinking age will solve some serious issues on their campuses, those with a stake in keeping drunken driving accidents and deaths as low as possible are very concerned about it.  Before the federal government pressured all states to raise their drinking age to 21 in the 1980’s, alcohol-related traffic fatalities – especially teenage alcohol fatalities – were at an all-time high.

Young drivers and alcohol don’t mix

It should be said upfront: lowering the drinking age to 18 does not give young drivers the right to drink and drive.  DUI is DUI regardless of whether the alcohol was obtained and consumed legally or not.  However, there are statistics that show a higher drinking age actually reduced alcohol-related traffic fatalities for young drivers.  Remember, we’ve been down this road before.  The drinking age was originally lowered to 18 during the Vietnam era, when people couldn’t imagine sending young people off to risk their lives in war without allowing them an alcoholic beverage if they so desired.  A similar argument is being used today, as many young men and women are fighting to defend our country.

However, an unexpected side effect of this change was that the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities began to rise at an alarming rate.  In order to prevent unnecessary deaths due to drinking and driving, Congress again put pressure on the states to raise the drinking age.  A recently issued statement from MADD concludes that the 1984 federal law pushing states to raise the legal age to 21 has saved 25,000 lives.  MADD’s answer to college presidents who want to lower the drinking age – tightening alcohol policies, punishing violators and go after adults who provide alcohol to kids.

The bottom line is that college students are going to find a way to drink no matter the legal age.  To lower the drinking age to 18 – when it has been tried before with disastrous results – would be misguided and utterly negligent.

If you or someone you love is unfortunate enough to be involved in a car accident or become the victim of a drunken driver, then we want to hear from you. 

Please contact the Northern Virginia law offices of Dulaney, Lauer & Thomas today and let us work with you to secure the justice and compensation that you deserve.

Carl N. Lauer
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Representing injured persons in Virginia. Workers' Compensation Claims.

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