18: The Freedom of Choice

A rite of passage experienced by every typical high school and college aged student is going to a party and drinking alcohol. Whether or not this is a good decision or legal, it happens constantly. Here in the United States, one is not legally allowed to purchase alcohol until the age of 21. I believe this needs to be lowered to the age of 18. There are several good reasons for this case, and several good counter-arguments. The United States is hailed as the place where each person is allowed to make their own decisions. Lowering the age does not forcibly coerce young adults to purchase alcohol. The US is the only major country that has such a high drinking age, and for poor reasons.

The legal age to purchase alcohol used to be 18 in most states, until May 3, 1980. It was on this tragic day that a woman’s 13-year-old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunken hit-and-run driver in Fair Oaks, California. This driver was not a teenager: it was a 46-year-old person “who had recently been arrested for another DUI hit-and-run”. This bereaved mother started the nonprofit group MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), which soon got the attention of New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. He introduced a bill into Congress that passed: the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. Interestingly, the penalty for states not passing this bill would be decreased funding for state highways. The mother left the group in 1985 due to the shifting focus of the group. Presently, this organization contributes nothing in nothing in the fight against drunk driving: “In 2001, Worth magazine listed MADD as one of its ’10 worst charities’. In 2005, USA Today reported that the American Institute of Philanthropy was reducing MADD from a “C” to a “D” in its ratings.”
Senator Lautenberg saw this mother’s story on the news and saw an opportunity to be a local hero. This tragic death had nothing to do with underage drinking. Instead of a law being passed to raise the minimum age, a bill should have been passed focusing on stricter rules concerning DUI’s and past offenders. This driver had already been convicted of a DUI. Why was his licence not taken away before he could hurt somebody else?
When a young adult turns 18, they are able to legally purchase cigarettes and enlist in the Army or other branch. Both of these actions require responsibility by the actor; both have different effects on a person’s life. Purchasing alcohol also requires responsible action, no more that a 21 year old can contribute than an 18 year old can. Drinking ages across the world are lower than 21: Canada is 18-19, all of South America is 18, and almost every single European country is either 16 for beer and wine, and 18 for spirits (stronger drinks with much higher alcoholic content).
One of the most common objections to lowering the drinking age is that alcohol can damage a still-growing brain of an 18 year old. This is scientifically true. This argument does not stop any person from consuming alcohol, however. Legally lowering the age will not cause the alcohol market to see sky-high profit margins, either. Almost all teenagers are already consuming alcohol before they legally can; legalizing it will ensure that these young adults will be able to drink in safer places, instead of having to hide from the law or their parents.
Instead of having a higher drinking age then the rest of the world, the United States government should instead focus on more stringent laws prohibiting drunk drivers: by limiting a driver’s Blood Alcohol content, harsh fines and punishments for DUI’s, and for repeat offenders, taking away their ability to legally drive and jail time. Instead of slapping these young people on the wrist when wanting to drink alcohol, law enforcement should instead by educating every young adult and adult about the dangers of driving after drinking.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s