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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

College Presidents Want Drinking Age Lowered to 18

There's a huge debate right now with college presidents from over 100 colleges calling on lawmakers to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18 in an effort to curb binge-drinking. Obviously, this had riled the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who argue that lowering the drinking age would therefore increase the number of drunk drivers and risk of drunk driving, which is pretty much the thing that they are against (being mothers and all).

There are several pros and cons to the debate - so here's my two cents.

Right off the bat, I'd like to make it clear that whatever the risks and consequences, I believe that the drinking age should be lowered to 18. I'm not entirely in favor of eliminating the drinking age limit completely, mostly because there are other age limits that need to be removed first. The pessimist in me says that "if teenagers at 14 are stupid enough to be having sex (with each other or older people), then they should be considered stupid enough to be allowed to ruin their lives in all other ways, like marriage, drinking, smoking and anything else that would shame your family and hopefully lead to an early death." The optimist in me says that "the maturity and intelligence curves with today's youth are so much different than they were even when I was a teenager that it makes sense to let them experience other aspects of adulthood at an earlier age."

And believe me, it's difficult for the optimist in me to come up with such a coherent thought when the pessimist in me is peeing on his shoes and laughing maniacally.

My problem with this story and the debate points made within is that the logic simply isn't there for most of it. Shocking, I know, but when you have crazy people fervently arguing their side of the argument as pure gospel - something's going to be wrong with the logic at some point. Don't worry, I'll try and poke fun of BOTH sides of the crazy line, despite the fact that I am biased towards one hopeful result.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving says lowering the drinking age would lead to more fatal car crashes. Now, this is logic I can actually agree with. If you increase the legality of something, you increase the chances that someone will do it, and therefore increase the chances that someone will do it and then drive a car. Or while driving a car. Which tends to lead to more results like "fatal car crashes". Point goes to MADD.

Richard Brodhead, president of Duke said that the current law "pushes drinking into hiding, heightening its risks, including risks from drunken driving, and it prevents us from addressing drinking with students as an issue of responsible choice." This is logic I can mostly agree with. Universities really can't teach students under 21 about RESPONSIBLE drinking because they're not old enough to drink (even though everyone admits that they do). I agree that when something is illegal, it has to go into hiding in order to stay alive, and that the less oversight there is, the more risky it becomes. If bungee-jumping were suddenly outlawed, there'd still be people doing it but it would be much harder to enforce safety and responsibility and it's likely that more bungee-jumping-related deaths would be a result. Point goes to the university presidents.

Meanwhile, MADD urges parents to think carefully about safety at colleges whose presidents have signed on. "It's very clear the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at those campuses." Okay, this logic I completely disagree with. MADD makes it sound like the presidents of universities who are in favor of this would somehow stop caring about the effects of alcohol on students and would be throwing keggers to get a point across. Duke released a statement from the president that alcohol is still illegal if you're under 21 and the university is obliged to uphold the law - but think about it. Wouldn't you think they'd crack down HARDER? Every time they document a case of underage binge drinking, they get to rack up another point on the "told ya so" meter that proves their point - wouldn't that logically mean they'd be busting people left and right to raise those numbers?? No point for MADD.

A lower drinking age could lead to less binge drinking, experts say, since 18- to 20-year-olds won't have to imbibe surreptitiously. This, I just don't wholeheartedly believe. You have to take into account the various situations that lead to "binge-drinking" and it's just not all underground. Most instances I can think of are parties. Some are underground parties, yes, but binge drinking happens just as much at the public parties. It's a little bit more secretive at the public parties, but it happens there. Even if the party hosts are doing a full ID check, marking off hands and having bartenders ACTUALLY check hands before issuing drinks - binge drinking will still occur with underaged partiers. The hosts are not equipped to check validity of IDs. The partier may alter the hand mark. The partier can get a supply of booze from a legal-age friend (which is how most booze gets to the underaged). The fact is - if you WANT to binge-drink, you're GOING to binge-drink. Removing the obstacles isn't likely to convince people to NOT binge-drink; it would only deter those who SPECIFICALLY binge-drink because it's illegal and they like breaking the law or something. No point for the university presidents.

What it all boils down to is that lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 won't solve the binge-drinking problem on its own. What it WILL do is open the doors for the universities to counsel students about responsible drinking and hopefully reduce binge-drinking in that manner. However, this also means the university can regulate drinking at parties with more scrutiny. Odds are that this change would create a rise in the number of parties, which will create a demand by the universities to limit the number of allowed parties, which will drive the partying underground instead of the alcohol.

Again, people binge on alcohol because they have a reason to. The reasons are probably stupid or something that a therapist should be handling instead of Captain Morgan, but the list of reasons probably has nothing to do with it being legal or not. The binge-drinkers that would be counseled out of the binge-drinking habit would probably be offset by the number of binge-drinkers who always wanted to be binge-drinkers but had that specific obstacle of illegality in the way all this time and never had the means to bypass it before it became legal.

Even so, the U.S. has the oldest drinking age in the world. Most countries allow drinking at 18. Some at 16. Some don't even have a limit at all! We've already admitted that at age 18, you can sign up for the military (to get shipped off to a country where to don't have to be 21 to drink), vote in general elections (to vote to make the drinking age 18), enter into a legally-binding contract (which often has the stipulation of making sure you're not drunk before you sign) and get married (probably the #1 reason why married men drink, if they're 21). It makes sense that the drinking age should be 18, if not lower.

What really irks me about this whole thing is that the university presidents are the ones rallying to lower the drinking age to 18 - not the general public or anything. They're doing it for the expressed purpose of reducing binge-drinking in their universities. Frankly, the number of 18-to-20-year-olds in college is such a small fraction of the 18-to-20-year-old population in general in the United States. It's NICE that we have some seemingly-responsible adults backing up the arguments to lower the drinking age, but that's not going to win the war.

The final point of the match has to go to the university presidents, because part of their campaign is supposedly going to be newspaper ads in the "public phase" - which is exactly what needs to happen if we want to make this law actually change.

What do you think? Are you picking a side in the debate? Do you think my points were awarded fairly? Does your wife make you want to drink heavily? Leave a comment and join the debate!!

And then Digg this article!


Anonymous said...

The pessimist in me says that "if teenagers at 14 are stupid enough to be having sex (with each other or older people), then they should be considered stupid enough to be allowed to ruin their lives in all other ways, like marriage, drinking, smoking and anything else that would shame your family and hopefully lead to an early death."

No one cares about your opinions you neckbearded pedophile creep.

Anonymous said...

I'm in favor of lowering the drinking age to 18. Then colleges can actually talk about drinking in a realistic fashion and it would definitely cut down on underground parties, both at college and outside of college. Drunk driving may not be though. I think we can safely assume that problems that apply to 21+ drinking, including drunk driving. Having said that, it would help the 18-20 age students who are partying at home. Normally they would get into trouble with their parents for drinking so they drunk drive to get home. If 18 is the new age, that problem should go down significantly.

Also, don't listen to Anonymous #1, there's nothing important in that comment. But damn, your inner pessimist is rather dark.

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