A petition drive is in the works to get ballot initiatives on several states to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18. Proponents of this drive bring up the argument that a person who can vote and join the military should be allowed to make their own decision. Push back is being given by groups such as MADD and The National Transportation Safety Board who tell us that the higher age saves lives. The question is, which is the more principled stand, to keep us safe or the right to make our own decisions?

Ok, it’s probably not going to be hard to figure out which side of the issue I stand on. IMO, if we are going to tell people that at age 18 they are old enough to make decisions for themselves, which include joining the military and defending our country, driving a car, voting, signing contracts, getting married, smoking, etc, then why are we keeping them from making the single decision of drinking alcohol legally?

It is this one act in this country that is still legal but only legal to do after age 21. Proponents of the law tell us that it saves lives.

Sen. Lautenberg said, “Far too many young people die from alcohol-related crashes each year. My landmark minimum drinking age law has made our roads and our communities safer. It has saved countless lives and will continue to do so.”

From MADD’s website

More than 6,000 people died in 2002 from underage-drinking-related causes (alcohol-related traffic fatalities, homicides, suicides, and other unintentional injuries). More than 2,200 of these were alcohol-related traffic fatalities according to the Institute of Medicine.

Ok, but let me ask the obvious question? Why stop at 21? Why not go on and make the drinking age be 25, wouldn’t that save more lives? Or 30? Or better yet, just make drinking illegal? We’ve gone well past the idea of prohibition in this country with our insane drug laws and armed a new mafia already, another illegal drug couldn’t be much worse.

In fact, there are a lot of behaviors that, if we curtailed through law, we could save lives with.

But even worse is the way that the ‘national’ drinking age came about. You see, the federal government can’t institute a national drinking age or make it illegal [1] but they did make sure the states followed the direction they wanted by threatening the national highway funds for any state that didn’t raise the drinking age to 21. If they didn’t comply, the state would not get the promised highway money and that is a large incentive that the federal government uses more than on this occasion to get its way.

The problem here is principle, IMO. We need to start sending the right message to children that principle matters. That when we say that at age 18 your are considered an adult and will be held accountable for your actions, we need to mean it all the way, not just with everything but alcohol. By giving them a pass we are doing more than just making them go to illegal means to obtain alcohol, which they will do, but we are also telling them that we don’t trust them yet. No, you can die for the country, you can decide the direction of our country, but you can’t decide if you should drink or not.

I think it’s time to stop the charade of ‘saving lives’ at the expense of unfairly telling anyone from age 18 to 20 that they are ‘not quite an adult yet, not a complete citizen yet.’ We need to start having enough faith in our children to allow them the ability to make their own choices in all aspects of their own lives.

There are those who are 18 who are more than mature enough to handle alcohol. There are many who are over 35 who I don’t think should be given a drop of any alcohol, who just can’t handle it. Perhaps we should better target behavior and not age in these cases. If you abuse alocohol you aren’t allowed to purchase it again for 5 years. Abuse it again after that, 10. A third time and no more alcohol for you ever. Same if you are diagnosed as an ‘alcoholic’.

I don’t know, I guess I just expect sense out of our laws, I should know better. We let lawyers make them for us, is it my hopeless optimism getting in the way?

[1] Yes, they outlaw other drugs, but we let them get away with it. Who is the worst in those cases?

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