The Debate Ove Driving Under the Influence and Drinking Age Laws
The drinking age law currently has an increase in America’s percentage in crime statistics, and DUI reports are significantly higher than they would be with the drinking age set at 18. With all of the other rights coming to adults at eighteen, there is no logical reason they should not receive this one as well. Most of the arrests for underage DUIs were not because the driver was drunk but because they were underage. Because of its prejudices, the drinking age should be changed to 18.
Age Discrimination and Consequences:
The legal age being 21 is ageist. This example of age discrimination affects all age groups, and taxes are higher because of it. In some states, young people cannot bartend, preventing them from a large job market. There are other factors as well. Within Rhode Island, for example, those aged 18-20 face increased consequences for underage drinking (compared to those under 18). But the worst part is that when someone under 21 tries to help and be a designated driver, they could be charged for being where alcohol is served as a MIA (minor in attendance). The 18 to 20 age group is not one of the major high-risk groups and is less likely to be driving. Alcohol has many risk factors, and people with a history of alcohol and substance abuse and the male gender are all higher risk groups than the 18 to 20 age group, and all of them are allowed to drink.
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Impact on DUI Cases:
About 25% of people aged 18-20 do not have a driver’s license, let alone a car, and an even larger number have licenses but either choose not to drive or do not have opportunities to drive. This means that the drunk driving argument for the drinking age does not even apply to at least a quarter of the population aged 18-20. Although the law should be changed, legal snags are many, including the highway money taken from the states if they lower the legal age and the fact that it isn’t winning any reelection votes.
The reason for this is made clear in the following interview with Mark Mahaney. Name: Mark Mahaney Age: 57 Profession: tourist/retired police officer/retired police investigator Interviewer: Kimberly Neumann Interviewer: Do you have a valid driver’s license? Mahaney: Yes. Interviewer: Did you participate in underage drinking? Mahaney: No. Interviewer: Do you drink? Mahaney: No. Interviewer: Position on the subject: Mahaney: 21 Interviewer: Do you think your position is safer for society? Mahaney: Yes. Interviewer: Has anyone you know been in a drunk driving accident? Mahaney: No. Interviewer: Do you think this would change your viewpoint?
Mahaney: No. Interviewer: Do you think the law makes a difference in underage drinking? Mahaney: Yes. Interviewer: Good or bad? Mahaney: Good. Interviewer: What would you do, if you could, to improve the situation? Mahaney: More education and enforcement. Tammy Neumann comes in. Tammy Neumann: Hey, Mark Mahaney: Hey, Tammy. Tammy Neumann: Do you think there was any relation you were dealing with the drug people with alcohol? Mahaney: Do you think there was any relation between alcohol and drugs when you were dealing with the drug people? Mahaney: Oh yeah, no.
This is the position of most legal-age voters, the majority of whom do not do the research to figure out which side is right or just don’t want to deal with the change. This means the law will most likely not change any time soon. The number of drunk driving deaths fell during the 1980s; this decrease was already underway when the drinking age was raised in 1986. There were a lot of other factors contributing, such as seatbelt use, lower BAC limits, and more negative social attitudes toward drunk driving. The law moved drunk driving deaths from one age bracket to another.
In an unrefuted study, Peter Asch and David Levy showed that raising the drinking age merely transferred drunk driving deaths from the 18-20 age group to the 21-24 age group. Their research confirmed their hypothesis that the real risk factor for drinking and driving is being an inexperienced drinker, not being under 21. Meaning that more education is needed, not a legalized segregation of adults that punishes people for doing the right thing or unequally punishes those who don’t. This prejudiced law needs to change.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). (2021). Underage Drinking. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/underage-drinking
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (2021). Traffic Safety Facts: Young Drivers. https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/811460
- Wagenaar, A. C., Toomey, T. L., & Erickson, D. J. (2005). Preventing youth access to alcohol: Outcomes from a multi-community time-series trial. Addiction, 100(3), 335-345.
- Fell, J. C., Fisher, D. A., Voas, R. B., & Blackman, K. (2008). The relationship of underage drinking laws to reductions in drinking drivers in fatal crashes in the United States. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 40(4), 1430-1440.
- Voas, R. B., Tippetts, A. S., & Fell, J. C. (2003). The relationship of alcohol safety laws to drinking drivers in fatal crashes. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 35(6), 861-870.
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). (2021). Alcohol: Teenagers. https://www.iihs.org/topics/alcohol
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). (2021). Teen Drinking and Driving. https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving/teen-drinking-and-driving
- Asch, P., & Levy, D. (1987). Raising the legal drinking age: Effects on traffic accidents and fatalities. Journal of Legal Studies, 16(2), 249-266.