Why 21? Exploring the Drinking Age and Its Impact on Drunk Driving Crashes

People often turn a bit of a blind eye to underage drinking, accepting it as a typical part of teenage life. This is unfortunate because, as we know all too well as an Oakland drunk driving injury law firm, underage drinking can have serious consequences. In this post, we wanted to focus on the reasons for the drinking age and applaud an initiative by one Bay Area community to enforce underage drinking laws.

History and Statistics Support the Minimum Drinking Age
winespill.png Almost every teenager has asked the question at least once, and many parents and educators have struggled to provide an answer beyond “it’s the law” – Why 21, why not 18 (or 16, or no restriction)? Mothers Against Drunk Driving takes a look at the age restriction in a series of articles on their website. Perhaps surprisingly, historically most states set their drinking age at 21. There was a movement to change this in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when 29 states lowered their drinking age to mirror the newly-reduced voting and military enlistment ages. MADD’s research reveals that this was followed almost immediately by a significant increase in the number of drunk driving accidents and fatalities in those states and in border-regions, referred to as “blood borders” because of a high accident rate that developed as teens crossed state lines to drink and crashed on their return trips. These results led 16 of the 29 states to return to a minimum drinking age of 21 by 1983. Federal efforts followed and legislation enacted in 1984 led all states to sign on to the age 21 rule by 1988.

Has 21 worked? MADD cites estimates from the National Highway Safety Administration suggesting moving to an age 21 rule nationwide has saved 900 lives per year, or more than 25,000 lives since the rule was adopted nationwide. Underage drinking has, contrary to what some may assume, declined since the change with the use of alcohol among 8th graders dropping 45% since 1991. Drinking rates also fell 30% among 10th graders and 18% among 12th graders. Along with other research showing that more young people drank when the bar was set at 18, this suggests the “forbidden fruit” theory (that lowering the age makes drinking less attractive) does not hold true. Furthermore, there were twice as many fatal crashes involving underage drunk drivers prior to the nationwide adoption of the 21 bar. On another front, MADD notes that alcohol is especially dangerous to the developing teen brain and drinking in one’s teens increases the risk for alcoholism. Teen drinking is also more widespread and leads to more problems (i.e. alcohol-related injury, rape, and school problems) in Europe, where many countries do not set a minimum drinking age.

One Community Cracks Down on Underage Drinking in the Bay Area
Walnut Creek police have recently been cracking down on underage drinking, as detailed in an article on Walnut Creek Patch. Efforts included a program focused on adults who purchase alcohol for minors. The police department also proactively look for impaired drivers, with the number of DUI arrests hitting an all-time high last year.

Helping the Victims of Crashes Caused by Underage Drinking
Our Bay Area legal team represents people who are injured or lose loved ones as a result of underage drinking. As an experienced Northern California drunk driving injury lawyer, Attorney Brod helps victims explore all of their legal rights, including seeking damages from at-fault drivers, insurance companies, and adults who provided the alcohol to an underage individual. Call to arrange a free consultation.

See Related Blog Posts:
San Francisco Accident Attorney on the Dangers of Drunk Driving

Focusing on Drugged Driving Following the Death of a Young Victim

(Photo by Ryan Gageler)