Lower drinking age could save lives
First off, we’d like to thank the hundred or so college presidents that signed off on the Amethyst Initiative — supporting a lowering of the drinking age from 21 to 18 — just in time for our back-to-school issue.
Well played, ladies and gentlemen. We might as well weigh in with everybody else on this week’s editorial-page equivalent of the hula hoop. For the record: We support the lowering of the drinking age to 18 for many reasons, chief among them that 18 is symbolically and mathematically the age at which we are considered adults in every aspect of the legal system, save for this one. If you’re old enough to vote, defend your country, sign a contract, get the death penalty or date Cameron Diaz, we figure you’re old enough to drink a cold beer.
The real danger comes when students reared on illicit binge drinking graduate and enter the real world, where the campus shuttle does not run.
We are aware, of course, of statistics that link teenage alcohol use with drunk-driving fatalities, but we feel the answer to this lies in education and — more importantly — a public transportation system that acknowledges the hours when many people are in need of rides home. But we are hesitant to give the nod to these college presidents, who seem as if they are surrendering after resolutely failing to enforce the law of the land on their campuses. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act, passed in 1984 (under President Ronald Reagan), strongly suggested that states adopt a 21 drinking age by appropriating 10 percent of the highway funds of those that didn’t. But alcohol use remained as vibrant a part of college culture as ever on campuses where traditional students didn’t turn 21 until their junior or senior years. Raise your hand if you went to a college where the administration actively and successfully curtailed underage drinking. We thought so. Sometimes, it seems, culture trumps law. So bailout for these harried lords and ladies of academia may be in order. For starters, the 21 drinking age is a fallacy, a law that exists on paper but does little to discourage or prevent enterprising youngsters from obtaining their forbidden fruit. College campuses, in particular, may have benefited from the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in the same way that moonshiners and big city speakeasies benefited from prohibition, giving booze the added thrill and glamour of contraband. The real problem here is drunk driving, the crossroads of personal choice and public good. And colleges are equipped to deal effectively with this issue — many have already established measures to make sure students get home safely at night via designated driver programs and late-night bus schedules. The real danger comes when students reared on illicit binge drinking graduate and enter the real world, where the campus shuttle does not run.
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