Study: Minimum drinking age of 21 reduces deaths

Published 12:03 am Sunday, August 31, 2008

More than 100 college and university presidents joined together in support of the Amethyst Initiative, which questions the effectiveness of the minimum legal drinking age of 21 (MLDA 21), and suggests the nation reconsider dropping that to age 18.

They claim that the current minimum age is not working and actually encourages increased binge drinking in underage students.

Evidence overwhelmingly proves them wrong.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Injury Control Research Center (UAB ICRC)—created to understand why injuries happen and what can be done to lessen their impact-has reviewed that extensive evidence. Here’s the real story.

The lethal combination of inexperienced driving with inexperienced drinking has been well established. The over-representation of 18 to 23 year olds we currently see involved in alcohol-related crashes would shift to center on 18, meaning we’d see more 16 to 20 year olds in crashes involving alcohol.

In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that the MLDA 21 laws have saved more than 25,000 lives since 1975, or approximately 1,000 lives per year. MLDA 21 laws are one of the most studied public health policies ever. The number of traffic fatalities involving underage drunk drivers has been cut in half since the early 1980s and the declines began immediately after the laws were implemented.

What’s more, the benefits have occurred with little active enforcement, such that societal costs from injuries and death from underage drinking could likely be further reduced with greater enforcement of the existing laws. Another benefit is that MDLA 21 laws also result in less overall drinking by people under 21, a trend that continues through their early twenties.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has concluded, after review of the large body of research on MLDA 21, that lowering the minimum age to 18 would increase fatalities by 10 percent just in those under 21. Instead of calling for the age to be lowered, the UAB ICRC supports continued and increased enforcement of the lifesaving MLDA 21 laws.

To do otherwise would ignore the evidence….and endanger the health and lives of people traveling our roads.