Minimum Legal Drinking Age
Pros and Cons
Video exploring critical thinking and how it leads to great citizen involvement
Last updated on: 10/24/2011 9:05:31 AM PST

Should the drinking age be lowered from 21 to a younger age?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) wrote in their fact sheet titled "Underage Drinking" on report.nih.gov (accessed Oct. 14, 2011):

"Alcohol is the drug of choice among America's adolescents, used by more young people than tobacco or illicit drugs... [T]here are 10.1 million underage drinkers in the United States... 39% of current 8th graders, 58% of 10th graders, 72% of 12th graders, and 85% of college students have tried alcohol.

Particularly worrisome among adolescents is the high prevalence of binge drinking... Underage drinkers consume, on average, 4 to 5 drinks per occasion about 5 times a month. By comparison, drinkers age 26 and older consume 2 to 3 drinks per occasion, about 9 times a month. Underage drinking is a leading contributor to death from injuries, which are the main cause of death for people under age 21. Each year, approximately 5,000 persons under the age of 21 die from causes related to underage drinking. These deaths include about 1,600 homicides and 300 suicides.

Alcohol also plays a significant role in risky sexual behavior and increases the risk of physical and sexual assault. Among college students under age 21, 50,000 experience alcohol-related date rape, and 43,000 are injured by another student who has been drinking."


Oct. 14, 2011 - National Institutes of Health (NIH) 

Should the drinking age be lowered from 21 to a younger age?

PRO (yes) CON (no)
Morris E. Chafetz, MD, Founder of the National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA), wrote in his Aug. 18, 2009 Huffington Post article "The 21-Year-Old Drinking Age: I Voted for It; It Doesn't Work":

"In 1982 I accepted appointment to the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving and agreed to chair its Education and Prevention Committee. The Commission met over the next 18 months and ultimately advanced 39 recommendations to President Reagan...

The most conspicuous of those recommendations, and arguably the most controversial, called for raising the minimum legal drinking age to 21 nationwide... In the interest of maintaining unanimity, I reluctantly voted yes.

It is the single most regrettable decision of my entire professional career.

Legal Age 21 has not worked. To be sure, drunk driving fatalities are lower now than they were in 1982. But they are lower in all age groups. And they have declined just as much in Canada, where the age is 18 or 19, as they have in the United States.

But even if we concede that the law has had some effect on our highways, we cannot overlook its collateral, off-road damage. The National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, which I founded in 1970, estimates that 5,000 lives are lost to alcohol each year by those under 21. More than 3,000 of those fatalities occur off our roadways...

And if we broaden our look, we see a serious problem of reckless, goal-oriented, drinking to get drunk. Those at whom the law is directed disobey it routinely. Enforcement is frustratingly difficult and usually forces the behavior deeper underground, into places where life and health are put at ever greater risk. The 600,000 assaults reported annually, the date rapes, the property damage, the emergency room calls do not in general occur in places visible to the public. They are the inevitable result of what happens when laws do not reflect social or cultural reality.

The reality is that at age 18 in this country, one is a legal adult. Young people view 21 as utterly arbitrary -- which it is...

[T]here is no evidence of massive brain impairment, alcohol dependency, or underage alcohol abuse, which the 'experts' tell us will be the inevitable result of lowering the age in the United States.

But so long as the age remains a one-size-fits-all, federally-mandated 21, and so long as any state that may want to try something different, in hopes of reversing the dismal trend of binge-drinking that (maybe or maybe not coincidentally) has become more serious in the years since the drinking age was raised, forfeits 10% of its federal highway funds, nothing is likely to change for the better."


Aug. 18, 2009 - Morris E. Chafetz, MD 

The Amethyst Initiative, a coalition of over 100 university presidents and chancellors seeking to reopen the drinking age debate, wrote in its "Statement" webpage on www.amethystinitiative.org (accessed Sep. 8, 2010):

"It's time to rethink the drinking age... Twenty-one is not working.

A culture of dangerous, clandestine 'binge-drinking'—often conducted off-campus—has developed. Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students. Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer. By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.

We call upon our elected officials:

To support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21 year-old drinking age [and] to invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol..."


Sep. 8, 2010 - Amethyst Initiative 

Froma Harrop, nationally syndicated columnist, wrote in her Feb. 9, 2010 article "Age Discrimination for the Young" on www.realclearpolitics.com:

"Age 18 traditionally separates minors from adults. But one can't legally buy a drink in America until age 21. Meanwhile, many states are now sending minors into the adult criminal justice system, even for nonviolent crimes...

Our society's age-specific approaches often boil down to curbing the freedoms of the young -- and increasing their punishments...

The drinking age has long been a tug-of-war. Is a 19-year-old mature enough to fight in Afghanistan but not to order beer in a bar? Almost every other country sets the drinking age at 18.

The presidents of 135 colleges have called for lowering the drinking age from 21 [see Amethyst Initiative above]. They note that the age restriction hasn't stopped binge drinking on campus and argue, not without reason, that it has turned alcohol into forbidden fruit begging to be picked. Perhaps teaching young adults how to drink in moderation is the better way to go.

In our imperfect world, the law has to draw lines, however arbitrary. But laws that only appear to address a problem by burdening young people aren't wise, and they aren't fair."


Feb. 9, 2010 - Froma Harrop 

Mark R. Beckner, MS, Chief of Police for Boulder, Colorado, wrote in his Mar. 4, 2008 memorandum "Approach to Underage Drinking," addressed to the Boulder City Council, available at www.bouldercolorado.gov:
"Over the course of my nearly 30–year career in dealing with underage drinking and all the associated problems, I have come to the conclusion that changing the law from 18 to 21 was, overall, not a wise decision. I believe we should consider returning the legal drinking age to 18 (with conditions) and then spend our resources on programs to reduce abuse of alcohol and the effects it has on behavior. While I cannot go into all the detailed reasons why and address all the research in a memo format, I can say in summary that in addition to personal philosophical arguments (they are considered adults in every other way) I believe that the level of drinking between the ages of 18 to 21 has actually increased over the last 20 years. All of the efforts we have tried to implement over the years, including education, awareness programs, heavy enforcement, etc. have had little effect on preventing 18 to 20 year old adults from drinking. What we've done is helped create an underground culture that encourages binge drinking without any oversight or supervision. There are studies, statistics and anecdotal information that support my own observations and experience on this issue."

Mar. 4, 2008 - Mark R. Beckner, MS 

David J. Hanson, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the State University of New York at Potsdam, wrote in his article "Drinking Alcohol Damages Teenagers' Brains" on www2.potsdam.edu (accessed Dec. 3, 2010):

"In many societies most people drink and they begin doing so in the home from a very early age. There is neither evidence or any reason to even suspect that members of these groups are brain impaired compared to those societies that do not permit young people to consume alcohol.

There appears to be absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the light or moderate consumption of alcohol by persons under the age of 21 causes any brain impairment or harm."

Dec. 3, 2010 - David J. Hanson, PhD 

The National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) wrote in its webpage "Support our Troops, Lower the Drinking Age" on www.youthrights.org (accessed Sep. 4, 2010):
"One of the most brutal hypocrisies of ageism manifests itself during times of war when we ask young men and women to put their lives on the line for the defense of freedom either here or abroad. This noble notion turns foul when we realize how many of America's soldiers lack the very freedom they risk their lives for and remain second class citizens. Anti-youth politicians disrespect individuals under 21 by calling them immature children, incapable of being trusted with the right to drink legally. These young people under 21 are not immature children; they are proud American soldiers, many of whom have paid the ultimate sacrifice."

Sep. 4, 2010 - National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) 

Jeffrey A. Miron, PhD, Senior Lecturer and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Economics at Harvard University, and Elina Tetelbaum, JD, Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Journal on Regulation, wrote in their Apr. 15, 2009 Forbes article "The Dangers of the Drinking Age":

"For the past 20 years, the U.S. has maintained a Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21 (MLDA21), with little public debate about the wisdom of this policy... In our recently completed research, we show that the MLDA21 has little or no life-saving effect.

Our research compares traffic fatality rates in states before and after they changed their MLDA from 18 to 21. In contrast to all earlier work, however, we examined separately the impact in states that adopted an MLDA21 on their own and those that were coerced by the FUDAA [Federal Underage Drinking Act].

The results are striking. Virtually all the life-saving impact of the MLDA21 comes from the few early-adopting states, not from the larger number that resulted from federal pressure. Further, any life-saving effect in those states that first raised the drinking age was only temporary, occurring largely in the first year or two after switching to the MLDA21. Our results thus challenge both the value of the MLDA21 and the value of coercive federalism. While we find limited evidence that the MLDA21 saves lives when states adopted it of their own volition, we find no evidence it saves lives when the federal government compels this policy...

The major implication of these results is that the drinking age does not produce its main claimed benefit. Moreover, it plausibly generates side effects, like binge drinking and disrespect for the law..."


Apr. 15, 2009 - Jeffrey A. Miron, PhD 
Elina Tetelbaum, JD 

Thomas S. Dee, PhD, Professor of Public Policy and Economics at the University of Virginia, and William N. Evans, PhD, Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Economics at the University of Notre Dame, wrote in their May 2001 American Economic Review article "Behavioral Policies and Teen Traffic Safety":

"[T]he existence of learning-by-doing raises the disturbing possibility that policies, which keep teens away from alcohol, may to some degree simply shift the [drunk driving] mortality risks to young adulthood.

[W]e present some illustrative descriptive evidence on the potential existence of this phenomenon... For the 12 states that had an MLDA of 21 since 1971... the traffic fatality risk increased as teens aged from 16 to 18, declined slightly though age 20, increased again at age 21, then declined monotonically afterwards... For the 12 states that had an MLDA of 18 from 1971 until it was raised to 21 in the 1980's... traffic-fatality risk also increased as teens aged from 16 to 18 but declined monotonically for the remaining six age groups.

The unique bimodal age profile in states with an MLDA of 21 suggests that delaying alcohol availability delays the fatalities associated with drunk-driving. This evidence implies that the nationwide increases in MLDA may have merely shifted some of the fatality risks from teens to young adults."


May 2001 - Thomas S. Dee, PhD 
William N. Evans, PhD 

John McCardell, PhD, Professor Emeritus at Middlebury College, wrote in his Aug. 22, 2008 article "Rethinking the Drinking Age of 21" in The Guardian:

"[T]he vast majority of young people, whether in college or not, consume alcohol long before they turn 21... Science, it is argued, supports a law that makes abstinence and enforcement the only tools a parent or a university may employ on young violators, whose numbers are vast and whose ingenuity in avoiding detection is increasingly acute. Experience, on the other hand, suggests that 'just say no' and 'we will enforce the law without exception' are not the most effective ways to enable young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.

Yet science can be tricky. Alcohol-related traffic fatalities reached a 10-year high in 2006. Fatalities in Puerto Rico, where the drinking age is 18, dropped by 11% last year. Half of the peer-reviewed studies on the effect of the drinking age on fatalities show a positive correlation. Half show no correlation at all.

The drinking age has effectively banished alcohol from public places and public view. But it has done little to reduce drinking. If you were to design the ideal venue for binge drinking, you would not design a student union, a dining hall, a restaurant or any public gathering place. You would instead design a locked dorm room, an off-campus apartment, a farmer's field - in short, a place conducive to clandestine behaviour.

And that is exactly where binge drinking is taking place, in the most risky of environments. Ironically, the more successful a college is in enforcing the law - carding underage drinkers, braceleting those of legal age, limiting quantities, posting campus security - the greater the likelihood that alcohol consumption will simply move to a place out of campus sight and often beyond campus boundaries, effectively placing that behaviour out of reach of campus authority.

The result? More than 1,000 lives of 18-24 year olds are being lost each year to alcohol off the highways, and this number is increasing. Supporters of the law continue to urge abstinence and enforcement. Such an approach makes no allowance for human judgment or discretion, for a consideration of the unique circumstances that surround every incident that ultimately becomes another impersonal piece of data."


Aug. 22, 2008 - John McCardell, PhD 

Choose Responsibility, a nonprofit organization advocating legal changes that would allow 18-20 year-old adults to purchase, possess and consume alcoholic beverages, wrote in its webpage "Legal Age 21, Myths and Realities" on www.chooseresponsibility.org (accessed Sep. 8, 2010):
"Legal Age 21 has failed utterly at its goal of protecting young people from the dangers of excessive alcohol use. To cite an alarming statistic from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth: 96% of the alcohol drunk by 15-20 year-olds is consumed when the drinker is having five or more drinks at a time... Since Legal Age 21, less young people are drinking, but those who choose to drink are drinking more. Young peoples' drinking is moving to the extremes: between 1993 and 2001, 18-20 year-olds showed the largest increase in binge drinking episodes. This trend should serve as a call to action for parents, educators, and lawmakers, for while moderate consumption represents little harm to young people and may even be psychologically beneficial, excessive and abusive consumption-binge drinking-spells disastrous consequences for our nation's youth."

Sep. 8, 2010 - Choose Responsibility 

John Cloud, writer for TIME Magazine, wrote in his June 19, 2008 article "Should You Drink with Your Kids?" in TIME Magazine:

"Jews, Italians, Greeks, French, Spaniards, Portuguese and many others typically introduce their children to alcoholic beverages at an early age. And they tend to have fewer alcohol-related problems than we do in the U.S.

In these groups, people learn how to drink from an early age and do so in the safe and supporting environment of the home. Common sense suggests that it's better to learn how to drink in the parents house than in the fraternity house.

Groups that have a successful relationship with alcohol de-mystefy it and prevent it from being a highly desired 'forbidden fruit.' Then, instead of promoting alcohol abuse, peers and social expectations reduce it."


June 19, 2008 - John Cloud 

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Task Force of the National Advisory Council on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholics wrote in its Apr. 2002 report "How to Reduce High-Risk College Drinking" on www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov:

"Many rights have different ages of initiation. A person can obtain a hunting license at age 12, driver's license at age 16, vote and serve in the military at 18, serve in the U.S. House of Representatives at age 25 and in the U.S. Senate at age 30, and run for President at age 35.

The minimum age for initiation is based on the specific behaviors involved and must take into account the dangers and benefits of that behavior at a given age. The age 21 policy for alcohol takes into account the fact that underage drinking is related to numerous serious health problems, including injuries and death resulting from car crashes, suicide, homicide, assault, drowning, and recreational injuries. In fact, the leading cause of death among teens is car crashes, and alcohol is involved in approximately a third of these deaths."


Apr. 2002 - US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wrote in their July 20, 2010 fact sheet "Age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age" on www.cdc.gov:

"The Task Force on Community Preventive Services recommends implementing and maintaining an age 21 minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) based on strong evidence of effectiveness, including a median 16% decline in motor vehicle crashes among underage youth in states that increased the legal drinking age to 21 years.

Age 21 MLDA laws result in lower levels of alcohol consumption among young adults age 21 years and older as well as those less than age 21 years.

States with more stringent alcohol control policies [also] tend to have lower adult and college binge drinking rates."


July 20, 2010 - US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) 

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) provided the following statement to the Florida State Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Mar. 20, 2007, available at www.ntsb.gov:

"Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for persons between 15 and 20 years of age. During the 1980s, the nation saw a reduction in alcohol-related fatal crashes, directly attributable to raising the legal minimum age for the sale and public possession of alcohol to age 21. It is estimated that minimum drinking age laws, imperfect as they are, have prevented nearly 25,000 fatalities since 1975. The fact that a minor, who cannot legally purchase alcohol, has a positive BAC demonstrates that underage drinking and driving remains a problem. Teenage drivers with a BAC between 0.05 and 0.10 percent are far more likely to be killed in single vehicle crashes than sober drivers or older drivers with similar BAC levels. 

Young drivers comprise about 7 percent of licensed drivers but 16 percent of the alcohol-involved drivers in fatal crashes. In 2005, 23 percent of young drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes had an illegal (0.08 percent or greater) BAC. More than 60 percent of youth alcohol-related crash fatalities occurred in rural areas... Because underage drinking and driving remains a problem, Florida needs comprehensive Age 21 laws."


Mar. 20, 2007 - National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wrote in its 2008 publication "Traffic Safety Facts" on www.nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov:

"NHTSA estimates that the 21-year-old minimum drinking age laws have reduced traffic fatalities involving drivers 18 to 20 years old by 13 percent and have saved an estimated 27,052 lives [from 1975-2008]."


2008 - National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) 

Adrian Lund, PhD, President of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), stated in his Oct. 9, 2007 presentation "Protecting Teens from the Dangers of Alcohol Use and Abuse: Wishful Thinking Versus Science" on www.iihs.org:

"IIHS's first study in 1974 looked at two states and one Canadian province that lowered the drinking age, carefully comparing their experience to that of adjacent states that did not change. That study showed that the number of 15-20 year-olds involved in fatal crashes increased in the jurisdictions that lowered the drinking age.

Subsequently, in the late 1970s, states began to increase drinking ages again. Again, it was possible to compare states that made this change to states that didn't. Again, we saw a change related to the drinking age — this time, fatal crash rates declined as teen drinking and teen drinking and driving declined. Although there's variation the effects are consistent: deaths go up when the drinking age is lowered and they go down when it is raised. The 21-year-old drinking age is saving lives... Lowering the legal age to purchase and consume alcohol to 18 would increase the number of 18-20 year-olds killed or injured in motor vehicle crashes. Others too would die in crashes involving drinking teenagers."


Oct. 9, 2007 - Adrian Lund, PhD 

Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD, Professor of Health Outcomes and Policy in the College of Medicine at the University of Florida, and Traci L. Toomey, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology and Community Health in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, wrote in their 2002 meta-analysis "Effects of Minimum Drinking Age Laws: Review and Analyses of the Literature from 1960 to 2000" in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol:
"Compared with a wide range of other programs and efforts to reduce drinking among teenagers, increasing the legal age for purchase and consumption of alcohol to 21 appears to have been the most successful effort to date. The magnitude of effects of the age-21 policy may appear small, particularly in studies using weak research designs and having low levels of statistical power. However, even modest effects applied to the entire population of youth result in very large societal benefits... [T]he large proportion of MLDA (minimum legal drinking age) studies that found a significant inverse relationship with various outcomes gives strong support for the effectiveness of the MLDA."

2002 - Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD 
Traci L. Toomey, PhD 

James C. Fell, MS, Senior Program Director of the Alcohol, Policy, and Safety Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE), wrote in his Oct. 2008 technical report "An Examination of the Criticisms of the Minimum Legal Drinking Age 21 Laws in the United States from a Traffic-safety Perspective" on www.udetc.org:
"One argument for lowering the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) from 21 is that 19-and 20-year-olds are drinking anyway, so why not legalize it so they will drink in controlled settings. Research shows, however, that about half of drivers arrested or killed while driving intoxicated (DWI) had been drinking at licensed establishments. Another argument for lowering the MLDA is that keeping it at 21 only increases the desire for the 'forbidden fruit,' such that when teens turn 21, they will drink heavily. Research shows, however, that when the drinking age is 21, those younger than 21 drink less and continue to drink less through their early 20s. A third argument is that the Federal MLDA exerts too much authority over the States. The response to this argument is that providing for the public's safety is the primary responsibility of government at all levels... This policy paper argues that national and international evidence shows that lowering the drinking age results in increased traffic crashes and that lowering the drinking age in combination with alcohol education programs does not impact the drinking and driving habits of youth under 21 years old. In arguing for a continuance of a MLDA of 21, this paper points to a 59-percent reduction in the rate of young alcohol-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes between 1982 and 1998."

Oct. 2008 - James C. Fell, MS 

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) wrote in their webpage "Why 21? Addressing Underage Drinking" and "Myths and Facts about the 21 Minimum Drinking Age" on www.madd.org (accessed Oct. 14, 2011):

"Why do we make young people wait until 21 to drink alcohol?
Many activities have ages of initiation... The age limit for alcohol is based on research which shows that young people react differently to alcohol. Teens get drunk twice as fast as adults, but have more trouble knowing when to stop. Teens naturally overdo it and binge more often than adults. Enforcing the legal drinking age of 21 reduces traffic crashes, protects young people's maturing brains, and keeps young people safer overall.

Can't parents teach their teens how to drink alcohol responsibly by giving them small amounts—under supervision—before they reach 21?
Some states permit parents to do this with their own child, but there's no evidence that this approach actually works. As matter of fact, there is evidence to contrary. When teens feel they have their parents' approval to drink, they do it more and more often when they are not with their parents. When parents have concrete, enforced rules about alcohol, young people binge drink less.

Would lowering the legal drinking age make alcohol less of a big deal, and less attractive to teens?
History says no. When states had lower legal drinking ages in the U.S., the underage drinking problem was worse. For example, before the 21 minimum legal drinking age was implemented by all states, underage drunk drivers were involved in over twice as many fatal traffic crashes as today.

I thought Europeans have fewer underage drinking problems … is it because their kids drink from an earlier age?
That's a myth. European countries have worse problems than America does, as far as binge drinking and drinking to intoxication. Studies show that Europe has more underage drunkenness, injury, rape, and school problems due to alcohol. Since alcohol is more available there, it actually increases the proportion of kids who drink in Europe.

Drinking is just a phase all kids go through; they'll grow out of it.
Actually, many don't. In fact, the earlier someone begins drinking, the more likely they are to be alcohol dependent in later life. More than 40 percent of individuals who start drinking before the age of 13 will develop alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence at some point in their lives. Ninety-five percent of the 14 million people who are alcohol dependent began drinking before the legal age of 21."


Oct. 14, 2011 - Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) 

Carla T. Main, independent journalist, wrote in her June 1, 2009 Hoover Institution Policy Review article "Underage Drinking and the Drinking Age":

"The logic of the [lower drinking age] initiative is that if we take away the allure of illegality, American youth will stop binging. That conclusion is wrong. Alcohol should be forbidden to 18- to 20-year-olds precisely because they have a propensity to binge drink whether the stuff is illegal or not — especially males...

Not all military drinking by young men and women is illegal, depending on where soldiers and sailors are stationed. Under federal law, military personnel must comply with the law of the jurisdiction in which their installation is located. Contrary to the lure-of-the-illicit theory, [a] DOD [Department of Defense] study showed that soldiers drink more when it is legal. Among the entire military (all ages), 15 percent are heavy users of alcohol in the continental United States, while outside the United States, 25 percent are heavy users. The study found that one of the factors that made binge drinking less likely was being located in the United States.

This throws into doubt two fundamental assumptions of the initiative: that young people drink because of the allure of forbidden fruit; and that enforcement does not work. Young men in the military, who clearly have a very strong propensity to drink, do less of it when stationed in the United States."


June 1, 2009 - Carla T. Main 

Ronald M. Davis, MA, MD, late President of the American Medical Association (AMA), wrote in his Oct. 18, 2007 article "Reducing Alcohol Abuse and Underage Drinking" on www.ama-assn.org:

"[A]ccording to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 25,000 lives have been saved since states began setting the legal drinking age to 21. That statistic is just one piece of overwhelming research that proves the lifesaving benefits of laws that establish the minimum legal drinking age at 21.

More than 50 peer-reviewed studies have looked specifically at the effect of these laws on traffic fatalities, and each of them found that an increased drinking age significantly lowers alcohol-related fatalities. And in a review of more than 50 studies from states and countries that changed their drinking ages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that increasing the drinking age decreases fatalities and crashes by 16 percent, and that lowering drinking ages increases fatalities and crashes by 10 percent."


Oct. 18, 2007 - Ronald M. Davis, MA, MD 

Sandra A. Brown, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, Matthew McGue, PhD, Regents Professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota, Jennifer Maggs, PhD, Associate Professor of Human Development at Penn State University, and John Schulenberg, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan, et al., wrote in their Apr. 12, 2008 article "A Developmental Perspective on Alcohol and Youths 16 to 20 Years of Age" in Pediatrics:

"Despite the legal scaffolding to protect adolescent drivers from the dangers of driving and drinking, 16- to 20-year-old youths still accounted for 12% of the 80 million trips driven in 1999 by drivers with blood alcohol concentrations of [greater than] 0.10%...

One of the most successful interventions has been the adoption of age 21 as the legal drinking age. One national study of laws raising the drinking age to 21 indicated that persons who grew up in states with a drinking age of 21, relative to those who grew up in states with lower legal drinking ages, drank less not only when they were [less than] 21 years of age but also when they were 21 to 25 years of age. A review of 49 studies of changes in the legal drinking age revealed that, in the 1970s and 1980s, when many states lowered the drinking age, alcohol-related traffic crashes increased 10%. In contrast, when states increased the legal drinking age to 21, alcohol-related crashes among people [less than] 21 years of age decreased an average of 16%. The National Highway Traffic Administration estimates that a legal drinking age of 21 has prevented [greater than] 21,000 traffic deaths since 1976. Furthermore, zero-tolerance laws, which make it illegal for drivers [less than] 21 years of age to drive after any drinking, have been associated with [approximately] 20% decreases in alcohol-related fatal crashes and DWIs."


Apr. 12, 2008 - Sandra A. Brown, PhD 
Jennifer Maggs, PhD 
Matthew McGue, PhD 
John Schulenberg, PhD 

Vernon F. Betkey Jr., Chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and Chief of the Maryland Highway Safety Office, provided the following statement on the GHSA website (accessed Aug. 25, 2010):
"GHSA strongly supports the 21 Minimum Drinking Age Law.  Both research and the hands-on experience of state highway safety agencies indicate that this law has saved countless lives.  Underage drinking remains a serious problem that needs to be addressed, but lowering the drinking age would be a gigantic step backward for highway safety."

Aug. 25, 2010 - Vernon F. Betkey, Jr. 

NEW SITE - Is there really a Santa Claus? - NEW SITE
Visit the ProCon.org community on:

© 2014 ProCon.org, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit     |   233 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 200, Santa Monica, CA 90401    |    Tel: 310-451-9596