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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Drinking Age

posted by on August 20 at 11:51 AM

The folks that have to deal with the consequences of underage drinking on a daily basis—the men and women that run US colleges and universities—are calling on legislators to return the drinking age to 18:

Scores of college presidents, including the head of Maryland’s public university system and the president of Johns Hopkins University, have an unexpected request for legislators: Please, lower the drinking age.

The Amethyst Initiative, launched in July, is a coalition of college presidents who say that the legal drinking age of 21 encourages binge drinking on campuses. William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, William Brody, president of Johns Hopkins, C.D. Mote Jr. of the University of Maryland and the presidents of Washington and Lee, Sweet Briar, Towson, Randolph-Macon, Duke, Tufts, Dartmouth and others have signed on to the effort.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) isn’t having it:

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, though, quickly denounced the idea as irresponsible and dangerous.

MADD’s national president, Laura Dean-Mooney, even suggested, “Parents should think twice before sending their teens to these colleges or any others that have waved the white flag on underage and binge drinking policies.”

Atrios makes an excellent suggestion:

…let 18 year olds have a drinking license or a driver’s license but not both.

Teenagers are notoriously terrible drivers. So whatever we can do to encourage teenagers to refrain from driving is, I think, all for the good. And I can’t think of a better incentive than a drinking license. But a teenager’s drinking license should only allow him or her to purchase booze in a bar, club, or restaurant, and not cases or kegs in liquor stores, grocery stores, or gas stations. Otherwise one kid in a group will give up his driver’s license in exchange for a drinking license and become the designated buyer for a large number of teenagers who’re still out there driving.

Atrios also wonders why MADD doesn’t do more mass transit advocacy. If more people could take fast and efficient mass transit to the places where they like to drink—baseball stadiums, nightlife districts, the friends’ parents’ basements—fewer people would drink and drive.

RSS icon Comments


That statement from MADD really pisses me off. I hate it when a politician, advocacy group, religious official, etc. attempts to squelch free and open debate with ad hominen attacks rather than facts and evidence.

Posted by boxofbirds | August 20, 2008 11:58 AM

Here's a better suggestion:

How about we treat 18 year olds like the adults they are, and give them the same rights AND RESPONSIBILITIES as the rest of us. You drive drunk? You pay the penalties.

Fuck the drinking license. If you really want to go that route, do it like Germany and allow drinking at 16 and driving at 18. Kids drink in High School anyway, but this would squelch binge drinking because booze would no longer be a rare commodity... that, and they can't drive during those years when they're finding out how to drink responsibly.

And finally, fuck MADD. Those morons would bring back prohibition if given the chance.

Posted by UNPAID BLOGGER | August 20, 2008 12:08 PM

I couldn't agree with you and the university Presidents more. It's absurd that a soldier can serve his country (even die for it) and a student vote but neither can have a beer or cocktail until they are 21 y/o. And, indeed you're observant that MADD should encourage public transit NOT driving for teens. What this country really needs is for the parents of teens to teach their children HOW to drink. Many countries have no drinking age including some that are drinking cultures. Parents should take more responsibility for teaching and monitoring their children's drinking habits.

Posted by lark | August 20, 2008 12:10 PM

A drinking license? Seriously?

No, seriously? That's a legitimate suggestion?

Posted by Nick | August 20, 2008 12:12 PM

Texas lowered the drinking age to 18 in 1974 because the public came to the conclusion that if you are old enough to be drafted into the armed services and possibly die you are old enough to drink. I was lucky enough to turn 18 that year and benefited from the law. Oklahoma had long had a law that allowed 18 yearolds to buy low-alcohol beer. Despite a lack of evidence that this lower drinking age was increasing traffic deaths and accidents the federal government pressured Texas and Oklahoma by with-holding highway funds and the laws were repealed in '75. Those of us who had been legal were allowed to retain our drinking rights while the newly 18 had to wait 3 more years. Prohibitionists will always ingore facts and rely on emotion rather than logic when it comes to alcohol. Both MADD and DARE would really rather disallow legal access to alcohol for everyone.

Posted by inkweary | August 20, 2008 12:18 PM

Unpaid @2 is spot on.

I do a lot of partying in Germany, and can tell you from experience that the locals do not fuck around with drinking and driving.

If someone is driving on a party night (this is rare in itself) they will stop at one drink. PERIOD.

You can drink in the street, on the subway, anywhere. And other than the occasional random drunk, it is not a big deal. Nowhere as bad as the staggering zombies of Pioneer Square and Belltown.

If you are caught DUI, it is not just a big nuisance, you can forget about driving for a major fraction of your life. No billboards advertising slimeball lawyers who will fix your problem.

And yes, MADD is just a beneficiary of America's ongoing War on Everything.

Posted by Karlheinz Arschbomber | August 20, 2008 12:20 PM

(not drinking-related)

Limiting teens from driving because they're bad at driving just means we'll have more 20-something bad drivers. Being good at something requires practice and experience, and driving is no exception. Just like lowering the drinking age will likely decrease alcohol abuse (binge drinking will no longer be novel), lowering the driving age will increase the number of good drivers because they'll have had several years more practice.

The driving age should be 14, not 16 and certainly not 18 like in some states.

Posted by Todd | August 20, 2008 12:22 PM

why doesn't madd contrast drunk driving stats from the US with Canada, where the drinking age is 19/18. I really don't think there is a huge difference.

Posted by ams | August 20, 2008 12:24 PM

Change the drinking age to 18 and change the driving age to 21.

Posted by monkey | August 20, 2008 12:25 PM

"Atrios makes an excellent suggestion:

…let 18 year olds have a drinking license or a driver’s license but not both."

How is that an excellent suggestion? Society should either define you as an adult or not. If you can put on trial as an adult, you should have all the rights that adults have, period.

Posted by Captain Jack | August 20, 2008 12:30 PM

MADD is a group of grieving women who blame everyone but themselves for the deaths of their kids. True, many of them were killed because of others. MADD members are filled with guilt from the loss of their kids, and so strike out at anyone who doesn't share their grief & anger.

Posted by Sir Vic | August 20, 2008 12:34 PM

Hey Dan, before you advocate using public transit to shuttle drunk suburbian football fans around, try RIDING THE FUCKING BUS first. The drunk, piss-and-shit-smelling homeless are enough. They generally sit there staring at the floor wondering where thier next drink is coming from. The last thing bus riders need are entitled, obnoxious sports fans yelling to the entire bus how entitled and cool they are. Those folks can use -- and afford -- cabs, and should be restricted to that alone.

Posted by public transit for drunks? Please no | August 20, 2008 12:39 PM

MADD is so batshit-insane that the woman who founded it, a woman whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver, left only 5 years after starting the organization because of their developing neo-prohibitionist attitude. They're Mothers Against *Drunk Driving* and they should stick to that.

Posted by T | August 20, 2008 12:43 PM

I like this idea.

But it should include MJ.

You can be inebriated - or you can drive.

Or you can join the Army and do all three, while carrying around a lethal weapon, at 18.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 20, 2008 12:47 PM

When I was growing up, the drinking age in Iowa was 18. They later raised it to 19 because a lot of teens are still in high school when they turn 18.

When I started at the U of Iowa, it was still 19, and kids got their drinking adventures done Freshman year, and then either flunked out or learned how to handle their liquor. Not that we didn't have upperclassmen who got seriously drunk, but it just wasn't as big a deal.

Then that dottering old idiot Reagan (may he burn in hell) forced all the states to go to 21. Binge drinking started to be a much bigger problem, and incidents of alcohol-related vandalism went up on campus (I know, because I was working for the University by that time) All because of this simple fact of life: If you tell a teen or young adult that they can't do something, they will do it.

It was an idiotic idea to raise the drinking age in the first place. Take it back down to 19.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | August 20, 2008 12:48 PM

@12 Cabs cut into my drinking budget, so I'll continue riding (and drinking on) the bus during my weekends. Thanks for trying to oppress me though.

Posted by T | August 20, 2008 12:48 PM

If we adopt a more European stance on drinking, we should also adopt a more European process for obtaining a license and registering a vehicle. I'd support that.

Drinking ages are tied to federal road subsidies - states that had 18 and 19 year old drinking laws were told to get their highway fatalities (and subsequently WSU attendance, most likely) down by raising the age limit, or lose highway funding.

But whatever, state laws very widely on the issue. It's illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase alcohol in every state, but not to drink. Definitions vary pretty widely on the circumstances in which underage drinking becomes an offense - but when you look at a lot of states' rules, you wonder if it's actually the law forcing kids into this sometimes dangerous behavior, or our culture's Puritan roots.

Posted by Dougsf | August 20, 2008 12:51 PM

Parents should teach their kids how to drink in moderation in their early teens - a glass of wine with dinner, a beer at a picnic, etc., so drinking is nothing special when they get older.

Posted by Ivan | August 20, 2008 12:57 PM

i saw Fox News reporting on this over the weekend (my mom won't turn it off). they had one "expert" who was against it, and no one to support it. not even a kid.

Posted by max solomon | August 20, 2008 1:00 PM
If you are caught DUI, it is not just a big nuisance, you can forget about driving for a major fraction of your life. No billboards advertising slimeball lawyers who will fix your problem.

And that's what MADD should be doing, but that organization isn't interested in doing the sensible thing, it's only interested in banning alcohol.

Atrios also wonders why MADD doesn’t do more mass transit advocacy.

See above.

MADD is a group of grieving women who blame everyone but themselves for the deaths of their kids.

I agree with you that the members of MADD are irrational, but I'm failing to see why those women should blame themselves at all.

Posted by keshmeshi | August 20, 2008 1:17 PM

The drinking age should be 18. Period.

At 18, you are adult enough to vote, to fight and die in the name of your country, to be tried in court, to sign contracts, to buy property, to be a porno star... but not adult enough to drink? That's just stupid.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | August 20, 2008 1:18 PM

Ummm... Do you really think not having a license will stop a teenager from drinking or driving, or both? So far as I can see, it hasn't yet.

Posted by Charm | August 20, 2008 1:25 PM

If MADD was primarily interested in bringing down highway fatalities, they'd be just as concerned with cell-phone use while driving as with drinking and driving, since statistically the risks they present are similar.

Those calling them neo-prohibitionists are right on the money.

Posted by flamingbanjo | August 20, 2008 1:47 PM

You can put fourteen year olds on trial as adults because the claim is for heinous crimes they were old enough to know right from wrong. So they pay an adult price. Well, you can't have it both ways. We are the lasiest parenting country. We really expect others to raise our kids for us. My grandfather, a sensible man, taught me the right way and the wrong way to drink at thirteen. I don't drink. At all. For thirty years I haven't had a drink because I showed myself I could not be trusted to drink the right way. Fortunately, nobody else was damaged in the process. That is called empathy and it also must be taught.

Posted by Vince | August 20, 2008 1:59 PM

MADD, despite the name, could more accurately be called the Ladies' Temperance League. At least in the US, they seem to be trying to stop ALL DRINKING ANYWHERE.

Posted by Fe Man | August 20, 2008 2:22 PM

Hey 18, 19 & 20 year olds out there, just remember next time you vote that it was good ole Ronnie Reagan and the GOP that pushed through the change in the drinking age from 18 to 21!

Posted by Dead Reagan | August 20, 2008 2:26 PM
Atrios also wonders why MADD doesn’t do more mass transit advocacy.

Because MADD hates alcohol more than Pat O'Day does.

Posted by Gomez | August 20, 2008 2:34 PM

not like high school kids are drinking and driving anyway...seriously people. and its not a recent phenom. lower the drinking age cos if you can vote and die for your country why not be able to drink.

when my dad was stationed in the uk it wasn't a problem for the american hs kids. just make the penatly stiff. in the uk if you get a drink driving you just kiss your liceanse good bye for the next couple of years.

Posted by Jiberish | August 20, 2008 2:37 PM

wonders why MADD doesn't do more mass transit advocacy

Because MADD's goal is not to make drinking safer. MADD's goal is to restore prohibition, or to introduce a fascist alcohol police state. Breath test checkpoints on all roads. Breath test interlocks on all cars. Prohibitive taxes on beer and alcohol. Earlier last-call times for bars. You name it, if it's anti-alcohol, MADD is for it.

Posted by K | August 20, 2008 3:47 PM

Make the drinking age 18. It won't stop high school kids from binge drinking, because high school kids are idiots, but it is more just overall.

Posted by Greg | August 20, 2008 3:50 PM

come to Chicago and get on a red line after a cubs game.
I concede it is the most obnoxious thing in the world, but every time I look and think about how in other cities, all these people would be getting in their cars and onto the road.
The inconvenience disappears quite quickly.

Posted by chicago | August 20, 2008 6:45 PM

At my school, we were taught abstinence-only and nothing about any kind of contraceptives whatsover - and I've only been out of there a year. So for as long as there remains this type of sex education, it should remain illegal for the "underage" to drink. Do you really want a shitload more 18-year-old hipsters being taken advantage of by drunkards? Not exactly my ideal way to start my first year of college.

Posted by pro woman | August 20, 2008 8:49 PM

So if we do lower the drinking age to 18, how long until we get to have this discussion all over again about what to do over underage drinking by 15-year-olds?

Posted by stinky | August 20, 2008 11:20 PM

a drinking license? i think you really struck out on this one dan. it would just make getting alcohol less illegal (and younger kids being able to get by on fake ids) and drunk driving the same amount of illegal.

Posted by Kelly | August 21, 2008 7:04 AM

@33 The slippery slope argument works for everything, doesn't it...?

There's just one key difference between 15 and 18: A 15 year old can't drive, they can't vote, they (usually) can't be sent to prison, and they can't be shipped off to war. 18 is the official date of adulthood, and so I think it's fair to say they deserve to have a beer to go along with all the responsibilities of being an adult.

Posted by UNPAID BLOGGER | August 21, 2008 9:00 AM

I know someone mentioned making the drinking age 18 and the driving age 21. I'm for the drinking age because of the many reasons stated already but it would be silly to change the driving age because we would still have the same argument...if they can do this this and that, why can't they drive?

Posted by Beloved | August 28, 2008 1:14 AM

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