Legal adults deserve to be treated as such. It’s time the arbitrary drinking age of 21 was lowered to 18, because there is no evidence that the National Minimum Drinking Age Act is effective or protects the people it is intended to protect.
The National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed in 1984 in an attempt to decrease the number of drunk driving-related accidents. The act threatens to decrease a state’s budget for highway construction and maintenance if it sets its drinking age under 21.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports that the number of alcohol-related fatalities involving a vehicle decreased from 26,173 to 16,885 between 1982 and 2005. However, it is impossible to prove a direct correlation between the higher drinking age and the decrease in alcohol-related deaths.
Furthermore, the number of overall motor vehicle deaths is decreasing — a trend that alcohol-related fatalities are sure to follow, regardless of the drinking age. For example, significant improvements in highway systems and vehicle safety have helped to decrease the overall number of motor vehicle deaths.
According to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a non-profit organization that works to make America’s roads safer, there were 43,945 motor vehicle-related deaths in 1982, a number that decreased to 43,510 in 2005 and 32,367 in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
More than 70 percent of teens drink by the time they reach 18, and 80 percent of college students drink, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
A Campus Health survey conducted in 2011 found that 56 percent of underage UA students had illegally consumed alcohol once or more in the 30 days prior to being surveyed. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act thus criminalizes the majority of underage students at the UA, an impractical and ineffective effort.
Katie Wilson, a junior studying special education and a resident assistant in Arizona-Sonora Residence Hall, said she believes that the higher legal drinking age leads to riskier behavior in college students. “Young adults tend to be more rebellious,” Wilson said. “In college especially, when you tell students they can’t do something, it’s the first thing they want to do.”
This inclination for risky behavior inevitably puts underage drinkers at risk. According to the NIAAA, more than 5,000 minors die of alcohol-related causes every year. Many of these deaths are preventable, but underage drinkers often do not call for help because they are worried about marring their permanent record with charges related to underage drinking.
“As a resident assistant in a dorm on campus, I see men and women with alcohol poisoning on a regular basis because the victim’s friends are terrified to bring them to the hospital,” Wilson said. “Why? For fear of getting an MIP [minor in possession].”
There are only five states that offer legal immunity to underage drinkers if they report an emergency — Arizona isn’t one of them.
According to the NIAAA, underage people drink less often than adults, but when they do drink, they consume more alcohol than people who are over 21. The high drinking age makes it more difficult for underage college students to come into possession of alcohol, which can lead to binge drinking on occasions when alcohol is available.
Of course, with drinking comes a number of health hazards, but the way to fight these issues is not to criminalize underage drinkers.
We should be focusing our tax dollars on increasing awareness about the dangers of binge drinking and promoting safe drinking habits, not setting and trying to enforce arbitrary drinking ages.
Wade Shields is a junior studying film and television production. He can be reached at Twitter.com/@waddlefish.