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Should the Us Legal Drinking Age Be Lowered to 18 or Should It Remain at 21 Years Old?

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Should the US legal drinking age be lowered to 18 OR should it remain at 21 years old?

A. Introduction

At 18 years old, there are many responsibilities gained, such as being able to marry, but one cannot drink alcohol at the wedding reception because every state in the United States has set the legal drinking age at 21 years old. The drinking age has a major impact on the 18-21 year-old crowd because many feel drinking is a right they should have since they are considered adults. This is an issue that faces the national and state governments. The United States passed a law in 1984, to raise the drinking age to 21, and would reduce highway funds for states that didn't change the age. (United States. Department of Transportation.) Should the drinking age be lowered to 18 years old, when one is considered an adult, and assumes adult privileges and penalties, or should the drinking age remain at 21 years old, since people are more mature and therefore, can be safe and responsible with alcohol?

B. Background Information

There has been a debate since Prohibition, on whether alcohol consumption should be legal or not. Prohibition occurred in 1919, when the 18th Amendment was approved. Prohibition outlawed the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors. This Amendment was repealed with the 21st Amendment in 1933. (FindLaw)

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 required all of the states to change their legal drinking age, if the states refused to comply with the law, they would lose money under the Federal Aid Highway Act. (Koroknay-Palicz) Candy Lightner, the founder of MADD, was a key player in the passing of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. Lightner wanted to put this bill in action to prevent people from being killed in an alcohol related crash. (Koroknay-Palicz) The National Traffic Highway Safety Administration has estimated that 18,220 lives have been saved due to an increased drinking age. (Drinking Age Limits) During 2001, in Minnesota, there were 568 fatal car crashes, and 226 of which were alcohol related. (Shearouse) 41% of all of the traffic fatalities in the United States, in 2001, are alcohol related. (Shearouse)

The decision of whether or not to lower the drinking age, or to keep it at 21 is continually brought up by special interest groups, such as MADD - Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which wants to keep the drinking age at 21. (Shearouse) One of the special interest groups in favor of lowering the drinking age is LAFAA - Legalize Alcohol for all Adults. (Legal Drinking Age) Another organization that would like the drinking age to remain at 21 is SADD, or Students Against Drunk Driving.

Drinking five or more drinks in one sitting defined with the term, "binge drinker. "Frequent users," will drink anywhere from three times a week to everyday. Drinking once per week to once per month is defined as a "moderate user." (Lowering the Minimum) A survey by the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study indicates that 52.3% of those college students, who chose to drink, drink to get drunk. 41.5% of college students who drink alcohol reported usually binging when they drank. (Lowering the Minimum) Binge Drinking is a serious problem among college campuses.

Men in America, aged 18-21, often feel cheated that they are unable to legally drink, but must register to draft for the army. A student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas said, "You can be drafted by your country, go to war -- yet you can't have a beer. You can be tried as an adult -- yet you can't have a beer." Many Americans feel it is unfair they are able to die for their country, but cannot consume alcohol. (Tobin)

Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal, and therefore seen a rebellious activity by teenagers. Some even believe it's made drinking alcohol, especially abusively or excessively, more widespread among college students and others in the 18-to-21 category. (Tobin) An editor for the National Review, Jona Goldberg said, "In some ways, it perversely encourages drinking because it made it a rebellious thing to do." (Tobin) There are many surveys to suggest teen drinking is on the rise. According to researchers, the average age that teens start drinking was 18 in the 1980's, and has lowered to 16 in the 1990's. (Drinking Among Teens) Half of high school students have consumed alcohol in the past month, and increase as students get older, according to a 1999 survey. (Drinking Among Teens) 43.7% of 8th grade students, 62.7% of 10th grade students, and 74.3% of 12th grade students report using alcohol in the past year. (Lowering the Minimum) People under 21 years of age continue to use alcohol even though it is illegal.

Evidence suggests that although teens continue to drink alcohol illegally, raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 has had a significant impact on the people. Teen drinking has decreased 13% since the passing of the law in 1984, according to researchers. (Tobin) The table below indicates the positives and negatives found by the Harvard Survey of College Administrators and Security Chiefs:

Table 1. Report by College Administrators on the Consequences of Increasing the Minimum Drinking Age to 21

Reported Consequence Percent

Students have become more aware of the problems related to drinking 71%

Underage student drinking has decreased 25%

Heavy drinking has decreased 20%

Student drinking has continued but gone off-campus 81%

Students drive after drinking more frequently 27%

Student drinking has continued on-campus, but gone "underground" 70%

Atmosphere on campus has become more conducive to studying 34%

Campus morale has suffered 32%

Enforcement of alcohol policies has become more difficult 48%

This table indicates that there have been many benefits to raising the drinking age to 21. (Wechsler) Many schools and colleges have created a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking. A zero-tolerance policy means the school has no lenience for violating a school rule, and the student will be removed from the activity or dorm room he/she is

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