In 2006, the nonprofit organization Choose Responsibility called for repealing the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which had led all 50 states to establish a minimum legal drinking age of 21, and allowing the states to lower their limit to 18.
Two years later, the organization assembled a small group of college and university presidents (the Amethyst Initiative) to call publicly for a critical reexamination of the law.
Those moves prompted public health experts to generate new research on the age 21 limit. Now, a comprehensive review of that research led by William DeJong, professor of community health sciences at BUSPH, provides strong evidence that the law is saving lives.
In a report titled “Case Closed: Research Evidence on the Positive Public Health Impact of the Age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age in the United States,” published in a special supplement to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, DeJong and a colleague found that studies done since 2006—when the debate over age-21 laws flared up—have continued to demonstrate that the mandates work.
The laws are associated with lower rates of drunk-driving crashes among young people. There also is evidence that the age limit curbs other hazards of heavy drinking, including suicide, dating violence and unprotected sex.
“The evidence is clear that there would be consequences if we lowered the legal drinking age,” said DeJong, who was assisted by Jason Blanchette, a researcher with the BU school of medicine.
The U.S. legal drinking age has had a winding history. In the early 1970s, 29 states lowered their legal drinking age to 18, 19 or 20. But after a rise in drunk-driving crashes among young people, many states began to reverse course. A change in federal law eventually pushed all states to adopt a minimum drinking age of 21 by 1988.
But in recent years, the benefits of the age-21 law have been challenged.
Based on DeJong’s review, the recent research supports what earlier work had shown: Since the legal drinking age was set at 21, young people have been drinking less and are less likely to get into drunk-driving crashes.
In one study, researchers found that the rate of youth binge drinking has declined. In 2011, 36 percent of college students said they had engaged in heavy episodic drinking (five or more drinks in a sitting) in the previous two weeks. That compared with 43 percent of students in 1988, the first year that all U.S. states had an age-21 law. There was an even bigger decline among high school seniors—from 35 percent to 22 percent.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that the law has saved up to 900 lives a year in alcohol-related traffic deaths, according to the review.
DeJong acknowledged that many young people break the law and drink anyway. But he said the evidence shows that the law is working, despite that. Often, minors do not want to be caught drinking, and therefore take fewer risks—like getting behind the wheel.
Plus, DeJong said, “there are many young people who do wait until they’re 21 to drink.”
DeJong said that education can help to discourage underage drinking. Often, he said, youths buy into the myth that all college students engage in heavy drinking episodes. Giving them a more realistic picture of the true “drinking norms” can be effective, DeJong explained.
He said tougher enforcement of the age-21 law, rather than a repeal, is what’s needed. Clinical trials have found that when college towns put more effort into enforcing the law—and advertise that fact to students—student drinking declines.
“Some people assume that students are so hell-bent on drinking, nothing can stop them. But it really is the case that enforcement works,” DeJong said.
“Just because a law is commonly disobeyed doesn’t mean we should eliminate it.”
Submitted by Lisa Chedekel
Essay about Keeping the Drinking Age at 21
1662 Words7 Pages
When it comes to the subject of drinking and teenagers, what is the first thing that comes to mind? To me it's the legal age limit of when teens should be able to drink. Having it lowered is controversial because according to prior experiences, data shows that younger age drinking is well known for its fatalities. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), "on one of the most popular prom nights in 1999, as many as 62 percent of the traffic deaths were alcohol-related" (). The most important question is whether or not the drinking age anywhere in the United States should be lowered, raised or if it should stay the same. Statistics prove that the legal drinking age should remain at the age of twenty-one in the United States.…show more content…
The number killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes decreased 71% from the record high of 5,215 in 1982 to a record low 1,510 in 2008" (Drunk Driving Research) [(teenagers and alcohol)]. The drinking age is kind of an experiment around the world. In many places around Europe, people who are below the age of twenty-one are allowed to drink by law. Many teenagers around the US find this law biased, because teens aren't given enough credit for how responsible they can be. In Northern Europe, people see alcohol as a culture issue. In many countries it is traditional to have a glass of wine or two during each meal. The drinking age in other countries vary but the normal legal age is between 16-18 years of age. A recent "study that compared DUI laws in the United States to those in comparable nations, such as the European Union States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Brazil, found that the United States had the highest proportion of traffic fatalities that were alcohol-related among the 12 countries reporting data." It was reported that the United States had "relatively lax enforcement" in comparison to other countries ("National Minimum Drinking Age-Choose Responsibility"). The majority of teenagers in America think that drinking is not worth the consequences it causes. Girls are much more