Drinking Age Law: History, Statistics, Accidents and the Law

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There has been much debate about the legal drinking age in the United States compared to the rest of the world. With help from MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the most commonly asked questions are answered, providing information to help America’s youth understand the reasoning behind waiting until the age of 21 to legally drink alcohol.

What is the history of the 21 age law?

The 21 Minimum Drinking Age Act was signed by President Ronald Reagan on July 17, 1984. Before this federal law was passed, states were able to have different drinking ages which led to calling state lines “blood borders” because teens would often go to another state to drink and then drive home under the influence. But by 1988, all 50 states, including Washington D.C. passed the 21 minimum drinking age law.

Why is the legal drinking age 21 and not 18?

Before the minimum age was set to 21, there was a significant amount of fatal crashes mainly involving the 18-20 age group. When the law was passed, alcohol-related deaths made a dramatic decrease- up to 28 percent in many states. Also, the brain does not stop developing until the early 20’s, and alcohol can hamper development, especially impacting memory, judgment and learning capabilities. So this law is helping growing brains by allowing them to mature before alcohol is consumed legally. Research shows that the 21 law saves about 1,000 lives per year and if the drinking age was lowered, fatalities would significantly increase and hamper such growing success.

What else does the 21 law help prevent?

More than 6,000 youth ages 15-20 die annually due to alcohol-related causes including homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries such as traffic crashes, drowning, or falls. Alcohol consumption also poses additional risks of increased violence, alcohol poisoning, and black outs. Also, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has connected alcohol consumption to two-thirds of all sexual assaults and date rapes.

How has the 21 minimum drinking age law made an impact?

Studies have shown that education and stricter DUI penalties are not effective in reducing youth drinking. After the 21 drinking age law was enacted, there was an immediate decline in alcohol-related crashes among the 18-20 year-old age range. This proves that environment change is needed to achieve long-term changes that effect alcohol assumption in teens. Before the minimum drinking law, 16 to 20 year-olds were the most common drunk drivers, but after the law was enacted, the most common age is now 21 to 24 year-olds.

How has underage drinking changed since the federal drinking law was passed in 1984?

Between 1975 and 2004, the 21 drinking age law saved nearly 24,000 lives. The 8,000 annual deaths in 1984 due to underage drinking have decreased by almost 25 percent. In the early 80’s more than 5,000 young people were killed annually involving drivers under the age of 21 but in 2005, that number had been cut down to only 2,000.

Why has progress remained relatively flat over the past decade on the issue of underage drinking?

Preventing underage drinking is a complex problem that has many intricate details that need to be observed to ensure success. Youth cannot fully be blamed for the problem. Society encourages children to drink by sparking curiosity with advertising and the connotation that drinking is “cool”, it also perpetuates the idea that getting drunk is a “rite of passage”. Loopholes need to be closed if there is to be continued success with underage drinking prevention. New underage drinking laws need to be enacted, as well as increased enforcement of those laws while implementing stronger penalties against providing alcohol to minors. In relation to teen drunk driving, increased enforcement of zero tolerance laws and underage drinking laws has to be put into action to be able to make a dent in the driving deaths.

How does underage drinking affect society?

Underage drinking costs Americans taxpayers approximately 61.9 billion dollars annually and in 2000, only 71 million was spent on prevention. Whereas 1.8 billion dollars was spent on drug prevention, and countless billions are poured into alcohol advertising and promotion.

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One Response to Drinking Age Law: History, Statistics, Accidents and the Law

  1. Mike Oat says:

    I am writing a paper on this topic and I would like to know what who exactly made the law and what logic/justification they used for making the age limit 21?

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