Why the drinking age should be lowered

Kevin Swain, Senior staff writer

Near a heavily fortified North Vietnamese bunker in 1969, Gordon Ray Roberts committed a nearly unmatched act of bravery and maturity: risking his own life in the face of the enemy. Roberts, who was 19, though pinned down by enemy machine gun and grenade fire, charged and silenced a 2-man fortification. Though cut off from his platoon (and exposed to enemy fire), he then continued to silence two more enemy bunkers, and fought toward a fourth to join an adjoining company which had been pinned down. Roberts then assisted in moving wounded comrades to an evacuation area before returning to his unit. For his actions that day, Roberts went on to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

When Roberts returned to the United States, he was not yet 21. He had the maturity to save the lives of over 20 fellow soldiers, yet in the eyes of the law, he was not  mature enough to purchase or consume alcohol.

The National Minimum Legal Drinking Age Act was passed by congress in 1984. The Act doesn’t actually set drinking age, rather, it punishes every state with a drinking age below 21 by reducing its annual federal highway apportionment by ten percent, (which ranged from 8 to 99 million dollars) acting as an incentive.

Though every state in the US has set its minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) at 21, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States, and more than 90% of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinks. Underage binge drinking is done primarily in private, uncontrolled environments, which leads to more life-endangering behavior by teens.

Legal drinking in licensed places like bars and restaurants, is much more supervised and regulated, which makes consuming alcohol less dangerous. Since 1984, kids have found ways to get around the age limit. Lowering the national drinking age would help to herd drinking teens from basements and closed dorm rooms into safer and more controlled environments. John McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont, agrees that lowering the drinking age to 18 would make kids more safe.

“This law has been an abysmal failure,” McCardell told 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl. “It hasn’t reduced or eliminated drinking. It has simply driven it underground, behind closed doors, into the most risky and least manageable of settings.”

Safe, young-integration drinking practices prove not only socially beneficial, but economically as well. According to the CDC, binge drinking- which accounts for 90 percent of underage drinking- costs the US approximately $223.5 billion annually as a result of losses in health care costs, law enforcement costs associated with underaged consumption and vehicular infractions. A lower drinking age and less binge drinking would allow the government to collect more revenue from money previously lost to bad drinking practices. Also, private businesses like bars and restaurants would post higher profits from the increased number of available customers.

The U.S has a higher drinking age than most of the globe. According to a 2014 report on alcohol and health by the World Health Organization (WHO), 83% of the 190 countries with available data have a minimum legal drinking age of 19 years or lower, and only 9% of countries have a drinking age of 20 or 21. Also according to the WHO, the US had a higher percentage of fatal crashes with alcohol as a factor than other nations with a lower MLDA than the United States.

Whether it’s up to the states or the federal government, significantly lowering the minimum legal drinking age (to 18 or 19 years) would benefit the people in a vast array of ways. At the appropriate age, teens could be eligible for a sort of drinking permit upon completing an alcohol-education course. The permits would be needed to purchase alcoholic beverages, and the government could revoke the permit if abused in the form of an offense such as drunk driving.

Currently, at age 18 in the US, a citizen can legally marry, serve on a jury, vote for government officials, sign contracts, be prosecuted as an adult in a court of law, use tobacco products, and die for their country while in the military. Why shouldn’t they be able to have a beer or two with their friends?