On The Drinking Age

Better to lower it than to raise it. (Post-Standard letter to the Editor.)

September 17, 2008

To the Editor:

Many people point to the reduced incidence of drunk driving after the legal drinking age was raised as proof that the higher legal drinking age is the reason. But one must remember that 30+ years ago, those who were pulled over by police for drunk driving would most likely get a warning and, perhaps, an escort home (for safety); at worse, they would receive a fine. Today, one is arrested.

Two important changes occurred at the same time the legal drinking age was raised: 1) drunk driving laws began being rigidly enforced, and the criminal penalty rose dramatically; 2) a huge (and still ongoing) advertising campaign as well as school and workplace education programs against drunk driving were initiated. It should be obvious that stricter laws and perpetual marketing campaigns against drunk driving would reduce drunk driving independently of a higher legal drinking age. If one doesn't believe that, then it follows that we are wasting billions of dollars in advertising and education programs against drunk driving.

Moreover, if I recall correctly, 17-20 year olds were never the age group most likely to have accidents due to drunk driving. We unjustly blame young people and, consequently, choose the wrong tools to fix the problem.

So, it's not that the often quoted statistics used to support a higher drinking age are wrong; it's just that they are often misinterpreted and misapplied---as is often the case with published statistics.

Sincerely yours,
Carlo Moneti