Change the Drinking Age to 18
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Underage drinking is responsible for a multitude of problems. As people under 21 drink alcohol, they become more likely to commit violent crimes, cause traffic accidents, and engage in other harmful risk-taking behavior. The Committee on Developing a Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Underage Drinking estimates the social cost of underage drinking to be at, “$53 Billion including $19 Billion from traffic crashes and $29 Billion from violent crime” (Bonnie and O’Connell). This illustrates how harmful underage drinking is on society and why this problem needs to be addressed. One factor for the high social cost from underage drinking is how easy it is for this demographic to obtain alcohol. It has been discovered that, “more than 90% of twelfth graders report that alcohol is ‘Very easy’ or ‘Fairly easy’ to get” (Bonnie and O’Connell). This contributes to the immense problem of underage drinking because with alcohol being so accessible, it shows that clearly our current rules are not enforceable. I think that some type of legislation should be introduced in order to rectify this social issue and that legislation should change the drinking age from 21 to 18. I believe that many of the negative externalities of underage drinking could be eliminated by lowering the drinking age.
To understand why lowering the drinking age could lead to a reduction in the problems associated with it, it is important to understand its origins. Constitutionally speaking, the drinking age was left up to the individual states decision, however, in 1984 President Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act making states change the drinking age to 21 or lose 10% of their highway funding. This was justified because prior to this law, “Teenagers from the more restrictive state would drive into the one where they could buy booze, drink, and then drive home, which created a perfect storm for traffic fatalities” (Trex). People claim that this law was very successful because, “traffic reports show a 62% decrease in alcohol fatalities among teen drivers since 1982” (Trex). While this may be true, I think that these statistics fail to consider some important factors. The reason that there were so many alcohol-related accidents in the first place was that these minors had to cross state borders and drive great distances in order to obtain alcohol, whereas if it were legal in their own state these accidents would not have happened. If the drinking age were 18, these citizens could have legally obtained alcohol in their home state and consumed it responsibly rather than creating a threat to society on the road. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 also fails to consider that these same blood borders still exist with millions traveling to Mexico to consume alcohol where the drinking age is only 18. Because of Mexican cities such as Tijuana being so close to American cities like San Diego, many people drive into Mexico to drink and then drive back the same night. This is an issue because when they return, “between 500 and 650 motorists and pedestrians planning to drive are over California’s legal limit of BAC .08”(Lange, Voas, Kelley-Baker). This creates the same problem that Reagan attempted to solve initially by raising the drinking age. Additionally, Mexico has become increasingly dangerous, and the U.S. Department of State has issued a travel warning because, “U.S. citizens have been the victims of violent crimes, including homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery in various Mexican States” (U.S. Department of State). As Mexico has become even more dangerous, this illustrates that by traveling there to drink, Americans are exposing themselves to entirely new dangers. By maintaining the drinking age of 21, many new negative externalities arise that were not initially considered, but these can be eliminated by reducing the drinking age to 18.
It has been shown through countries in Europe that reducing the drinking age can lead to a reduction in harmful drinking-related incidents. The drinking culture in the United States is vastly different than the drinking culture in Europe. In the United States, “50% of all the alcohol consumed by adults and about 90% of all the alcohol consumed by young people is consumed during a binge drinking session”(Loewentheil). This is problematic because typically the majority of issues derived from drinking alcohol are from binge drinking sessions, which are especially prominent on college campuses. The New York Times believes that this is due to the drinking age being 21, which they believe, “inadvertently made it more likely that students would engage in clandestine - and difficult to supervise - binge drinking” (Loewentheil). In Europe, the drinking culture is very different due to many countries having drinking ages of 18 and below. Because the drinking age is lower in these countries, many people first experience alcohol under direct supervision from their parents resulting in drinking more responsibly down the road. This explains why, “In many southern European countries roughly one in ten of all drinking occasions results in intoxication, while in the United States almost half of all drinking occasions result in intoxication” (Caetano). Additionally, by allowing citizens to begin drinking at a younger age, they tend to become more responsible drinkers and make society safer than if they had started drinking later. Forbes did a study that illustrates this that showed 31% of all road deaths in the United States were alcohol-related, whereas in the United Kingdom they were half that at 16% and in Germany they were 9%. By reducing the drinking age, society becomes much safer through people becoming far more responsible drinkers than if they had to wait until later in life to experience it.
Similar to how the legalization of marijuana reduced drug-related crime, I think that lowering the drinking age would reduce alcohol-related crime. When recreational marijuana was legalized in Washington state and Colorado the crime rates significantly dropped. The Washington Post noted that, “In Colorado, marijuana arrests fell by nearly half from 2012 to 2014. Marijuana possession charges in Washington state fell by a more dramatic 98% between 2012 and 2013” (Ingraham). I think that by reducing the drinking age to 18, the same effect will be seen with underage drinking. I would expect to see minor in possession charges drop, driving under the influence drop, and fake ID charges drop. Many crimes are committed following the consumption of alcohol with, “86% of homicides were carried out under the influence of alcohol, 60% sexual abuse cases involved alcohol consumption, 37% of assaults involved alcohol abuse, and 13% cases of child abuse were caused by excessive alcohol intake” (“How Common are Violent Alcohol Related Crimes”). With most crime, in general, occurring under the influence of alcohol, much of it could be reduced by lowering the drinking age and creating more responsible drinkers. This would also help to reduce a number of people in prisons because, “On average, roughly 40% of inmates who are incarcerated for violent offenses were under the influence of alcohol during the time of their crime” (“Alcohol-Related Crimes”). This would save the government a ton of money as well because of the high costs associated with keeping people in prison. Much like how the state governments of Colorado and Washington have been receiving a vast amount of tax revenue on recreational marijuana, I think the federal government could profit off of lowering the drinking age as well. The government could tax alcohol consumption for those under 21 and bring in a new stream of tax revenue. Additionally, they could tax spirits and hard liquors much higher than lighter alcohols, such as beer or wine, as a deterrent from young people purchasing the higher concentrated alcohol. Legalizing marijuana had plenty of positive externalities especially regarding the reduction in marijuana-related crime and I believe if the drinking age were to be lowered this would also be seen with alcohol-related crime.
Underage drinking is a huge societal problem that needs to be addressed, and I believe an effective solution to this problem would be reducing the drinking age from 21 to 18. When legislation was first enacted against underage drinking in 1984 it did not solve the problem, but rather it created new ones by failing to consider many implications such as people traveling to Mexico to drink. It has been shown in countries in Europe that when the drinking age has been lowered binge drinking rates go down as citizens have the ability to learn from their parents to drink responsibly. With the legalization of marijuana greatly reducing the crime rates in Washington state and Colorado, these same effects could very well be seen from reducing the drinking age. Underage drinking causes many problems for society and eventually creates much more significant crimes as the citizens engaging in it grow older. By reducing the drinking age to 18 from 21, I believe that many of these crimes could be eliminated and the societal cost of underage drinking could be greatly reduced.
Committee on Developing a Strategy to Reduce Prevent Underage Drinking, & Richard J. Bonnie Mary Ellen O'Connell. (2004). Reducing underage drinking : A collective responsibility. National Academies Press.
Trex. Why is the Drinking Age 21?. (2008). Mentalfloss.com. Retrieved 8 November 2017, from http://mentalfloss.com/article/19437/why-drinking-age-21
Travel.state.gov. (2017). Mexico Travel Warning. [online] Available at: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings/mexico-travel-warning.html
[Accessed 8 Nov. 2017]
Lange, J., Voas, R., & Kelley-Baker, T. (1998). RETURNING DRUNK FROM TIJUANA BARS: CHARACTERISTICS OF BINGE DRINKERS CROSSING INTO SAN DIEGO. Publication Of: ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF AUTOMOTIVE MEDICINE. Retrieved from https://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=505625
Loewentheil. Can You Guess Where In The World People Are Binge Drinking The Most?. (2017). Mic.com. Retrieved 8 November 2017, from https://mic.com/articles/57211/can-you-guess-where-in-the-world-people-are-binge-drinking-the-most#.vC7xcF69p
Caetano, Babor, Casswell, Edwards, Giesbrecht, Graham, . . . Rassow. (n.d.). Drinking and Culture: International Comparisons. Retrieved November 08, 2017, from https://www.chooseresponsibility.org/drinking_and_culture_c/
Niall McCarthy. Forbes Welcome. (2017). Forbes.com. Retrieved 9 November 2017, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2016/08/11/the-worst-countries-in-the-world-for-drunk-driving-infographic/#912634e2f5ca
How Common are Alcohol-Related Crimes? | Addiction Resource. (2017). Addiction Resource. Retrieved 9 November 2017, from https://addictionresource.com/alcohol-rehab/the-effects-of-alcohol/alcohol-related-crimes/
Alcohol Rehab Guide. (2017). Alcohol Related Crimes - Statistics and Facts. Available at: https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/alcohol/crimes/[Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].
Ingraham. Here’s how legal pot changed Colorado and Washington. (2017). Washington Post. Retrieved 9 November 2017, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/13/heres-how-legal-pot-changed-colorado-and-washington/?utm_term=.2ebaaaa40a35
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