Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lower the drinking age

In today's Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman argues that the drinking age should stay at 21.

Chapman is wrong. Chapman fails to understand what a draconian drinking age does to binge drinking for 16-20 year olds. Underage drinkers, unable to buy alcohol in a safe commerical setting (with a sober bar tenders who cannot serve them if they are visibly impaired), instead consume in private, unsafe settings.

Furthermore, especially on college campuses, binge drinkers are loathe to seek medical attention, since they rightly fear disciplinary action. This compounds the situation above, where underage drinkers are incentivized to drink quickly and privately, and then not seek medicial attention if needed. Surely public safety is not best being serve.

Chapman makes the argument that a higher drinking age lowers drunk driving deaths. This is not the best way to prevent drunk driving. Drunk driving requires not just a drunk individual, but also a car. The answer to drunk driving is therefore to have more police patrols late at night, and more draconian punishments for drunk driving (long time license suspensions, car confiscation, jail time), rather than less alcohol. If society is serious about preventing drunk driving, then a DUI should be treated as a very serious crime with very serious consequences.

One final idea: Perhaps those between the ages of 18 and 21 should be able to drink legally under certain circumstances. Perhaps one must have a high school degree or GED to drink legally. Or, one must have to pass an alcohol awareness course. Regardless, our current law should be changed.

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