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Lowering Drinking No Way To Curb Campus Binge Drinking

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on October 20, 2008:

Senator Dyson Recently, 123 college and universities presidents thrust the question of lowering the legal drinking age on to the national scene. In Maryland, the presidents of the University of Maryland College Park, Towson University, the College of Notre Dame, Goucher College, Washington College and the Johns Hopkins University signed a petition calling for a public debate on rethinking lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18.

The petition drive is called the Amethyst Initiative after the gem that the Greeks believed warded off intoxication. The Initiative calls for "dispassionate public debate" of the issue. The signers believe that raising the drinking age to 21 has created a binge drinking culture, in which students use fake identification to buy booze.

Baird Tipson, President of Washington College pointed out that at least 90% of the disciplinary cases that come before him, including sexual and physical assaults involves underage drinking.

In 1984, Congress approved the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which raised the nationwide drinking age to 21. States that did not enact law to comply would lose 10% of their federal highway money. The federal money hammer usually works. And so it did this time. By 1988 all 50 states had raised their legal drinking age to 21.

I don't buy the logic that lowering the drinking age to 18 will curb binge drinking. Freshmen and sophomores who are going to binge drink are going to do it whether the legal drinking age is 18 or 21. And I don't buy the proposition that somehow the existence of the 21 year old drinking age hampers colleges from providing alcohol abuse education that emphasizes the negative effect of drinking on driving, judgment and behavior.

The strongest argument for lowering the drinking age is that 18 is the age of majority, which allows them to vote, serve on juries, sign contracts and enlist in the military. However, that argument pales in the face of the facts that the 21 year old drinking age saves lives. The National Highway Safety Transportation Administration's studies show that the 21 year old drinking age saves about 900 lives annually and 25,000 lives since the agency began collecting data on auto fatalities. A recent study by the U. S. Surgeon General points out that as a result of underage drinking, 5,000 people under 21 die each year and thousands more are injured.

College officials supporting the petition allude to an increase of binge drinking. However, experts note there is little hard evidence to prove that binge drinking became more prevalent after the legal drinking age was raised to 21. A study by Henry Wechsler of the Harvard School of Public Health shows that binge drinking has remained steady from 1993 to 2001, with 44% of college students doing it.

Lowering the drinking has evoked blistering criticism from Mothers Against Drunk Driving - MADD, safety experts and transportation officials. Critics have accused college heads of misleading the public and trying to evade their responsibility to enforce the law and confront the problem of student drinking.

I have a deep respect for education and for educators. However, when it comes to their campaign to lower the drinking age, we part company. An 18-year old drinking age may make their job of dealing with campus binge drinking easier. But that is no valid reason to throw out a law that has worked and will continue to work to save thousands of lives.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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