To be sure, drunk driving fatalities are lower now than they were in 1982. But they are lower in all age groups. And they have declined just as much in Canada, where the age is 18 or 19, as they have in the United States.
Washington, DC (Vocus) July 23, 2009
As lawmakers across the country search for effective solutions to the persistent problem of binge drinking by young people, a prominent member of the presidential commission that recommended raising the drinking age to combat dangerous alcohol consumption has now called it "the single most regrettable decision" of his career. The law was signed by President Ronald Reagan 25 years ago this week. Choose Responsibility (CR) applauded Dr. Morris Chafetz's courage, and his candor.
Dr. Chafetz, who founded the National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, said he reluctantly supported the recommendation but that "legal age 21 has not worked." He is well known for taking on bold scientific claims and so-called experts, and rarely shies away from challenging the accepted norm. Chafetz says the law has resulted in "collateral, off-road damage" that includes thousands of injuries and fatalities that occur off the roadways.
"Legal Age 21 has not worked," said Chafetz on the 25th anniversary of its enactment. "To be sure, drunk driving fatalities are lower now than they were in 1982. But they are lower in all age groups. And they have declined just as much in Canada, where the age is 18 or 19, as they have in the United States."
Choose Responsibility is a national organization that recognizes binge drinking increasingly threatens the lives and well-being of millions of young people and their families and is seeking a new approach to the problem.
"We need to consider new, fresh approaches to a serious problem that has not gotten appreciably better and in some ways has gotten much worse," Choose Responsibility's John McCardell said. "Twenty-five more years of the 'success' of this law is simply unacceptable."
Recent research points to the growing number of binge drinkers among college age people, while other populations have seen declines. Unfortunately, the new data do not make clear what policies have contributed to those reductions. While there is no evidence of correlation, let alone solutions, those who oppose any re-examination of the Legal 21 law suggest that what is required is simply more enforcement. Dr. Chafetz adamantly disagreed.
"Enforcement is frustratingly difficult and usually forces the behavior deeper underground, into places where life and health are put at ever greater risk," said Chafetz. "The 600,000 assaults reported annually, the date rapes, the property damage, the emergency room calls do not in general occur in places visible to the public. They are the inevitable result of what happens when laws do not reflect social or cultural reality."
McCardell said the biggest obstacle to addressing the binge drinking problem are those who oppose any re-examination of the law who then fail to offer meaningful alternatives, which leaves only the status quo.
Choose Responsibility is a nonprofit organization founded to stimulate informed and dispassionate public discussion about the presence of alcohol in American culture and to consider policies that will effectively empower young adults age 18 to 20 to make mature decisions about the place of alcohol in their own lives. For more information, visit
Media Contact: Mike Tetuan
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