I was a teenager in the 70’s, when the drinking age in my state (NJ) was still 18. I went to college in Pennsylvania, where the drinking age has always been 21. Did that stop 18-20 year olds from drinking? Not bloody likely!
A hundred and thirty college presidents and chancellors have signed a controversial statement calling for a new debate about the legal drinking age; their notion is to lower it from 21 to 18. Alas, college presidents are politicians of a sort, so none will take the reopened debate where it needs to go. There should be no drinking age at all.
Age limits make drinking a badge of adulthood and build in the minds of teens a romantic sense of the transgressive danger of alcohol. That’s what so often leads to the abuse of alcohol as a ritual of release from the authority of parents. And that’s what has the college presidents worried. They see it.
Drinking by itself just isn’t very dangerous. But driving is. Despite more relaxed drinking-age laws, the EU, according to Miron and Tetelbaum, averaged 95 fatalities per million inhabitants in the past decade while the U.S. experienced 150 fatalities per million. The big difference is that in many EU countries you have to wait until 18 to get behind the wheel. If you’re worried about car wrecks, regulate drivers.
Salt makes things taste better. If you eat too much, it can kill you. But we don’t need laws regulating salt. In an America without a minimum drinking age, we would shift our focus from demon rum and car crash statistics to creating an environment where parents are expected to supervise their children and alcohol would become for teens just another thing, like bicycles or swimming pools, that can either make your day or take your life.