Why Can't 18 Year Olds Drink Legally?


At the age of 18 American kids legally become adults. While laws vary from state to state, in all states at the age of 18 people are allowed to live on their own, purchase tobacco products, get married, enlist in the military and make legal decisions on their own. 18 years-old seems to be the magic age for everything. Well, almost everything. They are not allowed to legally purchase or consume alcohol until the age of 21.

John M. McCardell, Jr., former president of Middlebury College in Vermont would like to see the legal drinking age lowered to 18. In 2004, after leaving his presidency to return to teaching history, he was quoted as saying that the 21-year-old drinking age is "bad social policy and terrible law". He would rather focus on the abuse of alcohol rather than the consumption and have adults model responsibility concerning alcohol issues. He has established a non-profit organization called Choose Responsibility to push for the change of the legal drinking age to 18.

Mr. McCardell's organization proposes alcohol awareness programs for 18-20 year old college students and allowing states to issue a "drinking license" to those who successfully complete the program. He states that binge drinking among college students has never been worse, proof that the legal drinking age of 21 just isn't working. He points out the dangers of young college students drinking in secret and says "I think we can do better".

His proposals are strongly opposed by many, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Everyone seems to agree that underage drinking is a serious problem but Choose Responsibility seems to be the one and only organization in favor of a lower legal drinking age. Choose Responsibility is not without its supporters though. Recently Dartmouth College president, James Wright, has said he supports McCardell's efforts. Wright states, "Our students are adults, and they need to be treated as adults". Wright is correct, in every other way 18 year olds are treated as adults. They are adults who can not legally drink for another 3 years.

Many states currently have underage DUI laws in which an underage driver can be charged with DUI if they have a blood-alcohol level or BAC of .02 or lower. In some states even a trace of alcohol in an underage driver can lead to a DUI conviction. If the drinking age were lowered, or if the underage offenders were in possession of the proposed "drinking license" many could possibly be spared a DUI conviction if they had a very low or trace blood-alcohol reading.

There may not be just one right answer in the debate about the drinking age, but McCardell certainly wants a public discussion about it. He is making the rounds on talk radio shows in the United States, laying out his case for lowering the legal drinking age. At some point people are bound to start listening, but will they agree? Only time will tell, but in the meantime underage drinkers across America are likely toasting John M. McCardell, Jr., as their hero.

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