Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Intern Special Report

Welcome back to the Intern Special Report.

Recently, a group of about 100 college presidents signed on to an initiative to lower the legal drinking age in the United States. The movement, called the Amethyst Initiative calls for “an informed and dispassionate debate" over the issue and the federal highway law that made 21 the de facto national drinking age by denying money to any state that bucks the trend.”(MSNBC)

Predictably, the initiative has provoked an outcry from some major alcohol-related groups across the country, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. These groups claim that the current legal drinking age of 21 is effective in keeping underage drinkers from drinking and driving.

The movement for a lower drinking age has been growing (i.e. the facebook group “10 million people to lower the drinking age”), virtually unnoticed, for several years now. I, for one, completely support and stand by the movement to lower the legal drinking age in the United States, although with one noticeable provision.

The drinking age ought to be lowered to 16 while the age at which citizens may receive a driver’s license should be upped to 18 and here’s why.

For much of adolescence, alcohol is a completely unknown substance. Most of us learn about it through watching relatives drink at the family Christmas party. In that setting drinking looks fun to those kids.

Fast forward to high school. The message is completely different.

We’ve all had our obligatory health class which pretty much consists of this mantra: “Don’t have sex. You will die. Don’t do drugs. You will die,” and I’m not debating that there might not be some truth to that. But to a high school student, alcohol is a forbidden fruit, this symbol that you’ve reached adulthood. It’s very tempting to experiment with alcohol while underage. I’ll not even go into how easy it is to obtain.

Because it is so forbidden, teens (rebellious by nature) find alcohol especially tempting, which means that when they get their hands on some, they go all out. Binge-drinking is incredibly dangerous, there’s no denying that. Additionly, most of these teens already have driver’s licenses which, in turn, leads to drunk driving.

If the drinking age was lowered to 16, alcohol would not be a prize to obtain. Drinking would lose all of its glamour and mystique. Parents would be able to watch over their children while they try alcohol and would be able to guide them through the process safely.

Now, if the driving age was raised to 18, most of the teens who would drink with friends or at parties would no longer be able to drive themselves home. This would drastically reduce the number of teen-related drunk driving accidents.

As if this wasn’t enough to at least cause a rethinking of the 21 law, college presidents have another reason to advocate this lowering of the drinking age.

By lowering the drinking age even to 18, freshmen coming into the school would be legally allowed to drink. Because the great majority of colleges require freshmen to reside on campus, universities could regulate alcohol use among freshmen to a much greater extent than is currently possible when freshmen go off campus to party.

Once the alcohol and underclassmen leave to go off campus it can spell disaster for the university, the students, and the surrounding community.

Lowering of the drinking age and raising the age when you can drive are not the only two things that need to happen. America as a country needs to move away from the puritanical belief that alcohol and sex are the “Great Satan” as a coworker of mine put it. Only once that occurs can the United States emulate the success of other countries (i.e. Germany or Italy) that have extremely low drunk driving numbers despite having low or no drinking age.

-Jake Dinerman
Squire of Snark


Gloria said...

This is extremely smart thinking, Jake, and I admire your willingness to sacrifice getting a driver's license ASAP!

I have a 14 year-old, and we are allowing her to taste alcohol, and as she gets a little older, will probably allow her to start drinking a little, like tumblers of beer or something. AND, our thinking in re driving is to go slow, slow, slow - she may get a license but that doesn't mean she gets the car. Your proposed changes would certainly make our job as parents easier.

Katie said...

My college wasn't a dry campus, and the drinking was outrageous. We had hundreds of people arrested for underage drinking on the holidays we held (school spirit!) that pretty much involved getting drunk in the morning and staying drunk all day. When they decided to put a BAR on campus it meant access to alcohol couldn't have been easier, although the nearest bars were walking distance anyway. Professors brought wine and beer to class.

Freshmen didn't exactly try to avoid the drinking, since it wasn't exactly discouraged by the campus culture, but the real kicker was the fact that this was a commuter school; out of 30,000 peeps, only 3,000 lived on campus. So who's hanging out at the bar, having a few during class and going to their friend's dorm for happy hour/breakfast? Oh, right, the ones that live 20 minutes away. By car. Stumbling across the parking lot, setting off their car alarms.

When it comes down to it, it's all about teaching people to drink responsibly, because people are going to drink regardless. When it's taboo and forbidden fruit and these kids have no experience with it whatsoever, then abusing the privilege in the college bubble and making stupid decisions is muuuch more likely to happen. Kudos, Jake. I didn't get my license til I was 18 anyway, and I'll tell ya, I definitely didn't get a DUI before I could drive... or after :)