In all the 50 states of America, the drinking age has uniformly been capped at 21 years of age despite there being differences in the way the law is applied. For, example, teens are allowed to take alcohol even when they have not reached the age of 21 but they must be in the company of their parents (Wagenaar, pp. 57). The enactment of the National Minimum Drinking Age of 1984 prompted states to increase the age from 18 to 21 in fear of losing up to 10 percent of their federal highway funding if they failed to enforce the Act.
Over the recent past, campaigns have been waged towards lowering the age from the current 21 to 18 years. These campaigns have in most cases been spearheaded by college students who have argued that the law is ineffective. True to their words, the law has not fully stopped teenage drinking and has even pushed underage drinking into secret and less controlled surroundings. However, lowering the age would be catastrophic to the livelihoods of Americans since teens cannot handle alcohol responsibly. Moreover, it has been observed that teens are most likely to inflict harm on others and self when they take alcohol before the age of 21 (Wilson et.al. pp 178).
The arguments for lowering the age to 18 are based on the assumption that since one is allowed to vote at that age and even be prosecuted, then he can make a decision on alcohol. However, this argument is weak because most of the rights conferred upon an 18 year old relate to the personal life of the person. Alcohol drinking is not only a danger to self but to the other members of the society. In this regard, the constitution of the US confers most of the rights that affect others when a citizen reaches the age of 21. A person cannot, for instance, purchase a handgun, adopt a child, rent a car, nor gamble in casino until they have reached the age of 21. It is therefore in order that the right to drink alcohol, which may pose a threat to others, should be set at 21 to safeguard the rights of others.
Lowering the minimum drinking age could spell doom to traffic users and pedestrians as it could mean more accident fatalities (Watson et.al, pp. 45). This would be contrary to the government’s role of protecting all civilians and safeguarding their lives. Studies done in the past have shown a direct association between higher drinking ages and lower rates of traffic accidents. It has been estimated that a minimum drinking age of 21 decreases by about 15% the number of accidents for 18- to 20-year olds. This decrease in the intensity and volume of traffic accidents has in effect saved more than 27000 lives over a period of the last 37 years.
Maintain the minimum drinking age at 21 would be a positive development since lowering it would be medically irresponsible. It is widely accepted that the development of the brain is highly inhibited by alcohol consumption and especially the frontal lobes that are essential for emotional planning, organization and regulation. Allowing teens to partake in alcohol consumption at such a tender age of 18 would therefore interfere with this early development (Mendelson, pp. 189). The result of this inhibition leads to the potential of greater susceptibility to addiction and poor decision making. There would be no justice in exposing the young people to such risks in a bid to give them rights which they might not even enjoy if exposed to such chronic problems.
Allowing for a downward change in the minimum drinking age will encourage a larger societal segment to drink alcohol in the open. In fact, allowing teens to drink alcohol at a lower age would just avail alcohol to a younger population. The influence that 18 year olds have on the teens between the ages of 15 and 17 would encourage the latter to drink more (Dryfoos et.al, pp. 97). Legal access to 18 year olds will avail more opportunities for younger underage teens to access the alcohol from older peers. It is true that the large volume of underage drinkers currently bring forth frustration. However, studies have shown that this statistics would be higher if the drinking age was to be lowered (Hammer, pp. 105-107).
There is also a push to lower the minimum drinking age to reflect that of other European countries which is set at 18 years. This is however, not practical because the rate of US teenagers that drink is lower than that of most countries in Europe. This difference has led to higher levels of alcohol-related illnesses among the European teenagers as compared to those in the US (Olson et.al. pp. 78). The United States of America cannot therefore blindly follow the European countries in setting its minimum drinking age at 18 and expose its teenagers to the illnesses aforementioned.
The reason why the minimum drinking age has remained at 21 years over many decades is because it strikes equilibrium between not having a right and having it at a reasonable age (Wechsler, pp. 38). The law is there to protect both the under 21s and the general public from danger that may arise from alcohol consumption. The gospel truth is that the current minimum drinking age has led to a reduction in alcohol consumption and especially among the teens. It should therefore not be adjusted in the near future.
Dryfoos, Joy G, and Carol Barkin. Adolescence: Growing Up in America Today. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Internet resource.
Hammer, Lindsey M. The Effect of Legal Minimum Drinking Age on the Use of Alcohol Analyzing Differences between America and Australia. West Hartford, CT: University of Hartford, 2011. Print.
Mendelson, Richard. From Demon to Darling: A Legal History of Wine in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009. Internet resource.
Minimum Drinking Age: Report (to Accompany H.R. 3870) (including Cost Estimate of the Congressional Budget Office). Washington D.C.: 1984. Print.
Olson, Steve, and Dean R. Gerstein. Alcohol in America: Taking Action to Prevent Abuse.Washington D.C: National Academy Press, 1985. Print.
Wagenaar, A. C. The Minimum Legal Drinking Age: ATime-Series Impact Evaluation. U Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1980. Print.
Watson, Tara, and Angela Fertig. Minimum Drinking Age laws and Infant Health Outcomes. Cambridge, Massachusetts: National Bureau of Economic Research. 2008. Print.
Wechsler, Henry. Minimum-drinking-age laws: An Evaluation. Toronto: Health, 1980. Print.
Wilson, Richard W, and Cheryl A. Kolander. Drug Abuse Prevention: A School and Community Partnership. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2011.
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