Call and Response
In the interest of full disclosure, we present below both the link to MADD’s press release and the text of Choose Responsibility’s response.
Science speaks for itself” (MADD press release). Indeed it does. While it is true that “almost 50 peer-reviewed studies” have “found that an increased drinking age significantly lowers alcohol-related fatalities” (MADD press release), an equal number of studies have found no relationship between the drinking age and alcohol-related fatalities (Wagenaar and Toomey, 2002).
Thus, if science is allowed to speak for itself, we must not listen selectively.
While it is true that alcohol-related traffic fatalities have declined since the age was raised to 21, the downward trend began before the law was changed, and it has remained essentially flat for the last decade (NHTSA). Meanwhile, more than 1,000 18-24 year-old lives are being lost to alcohol each year off the roadways, and this number is increasing at an alarming rate (Hingson, 1998, 2001). These lives are being put at risk in the dark corners and behind the closed doors to which Legal Age 21 have banished them.
Thus, we need to look at all the ways alcohol, and the drinking age, put lives at risk, not just at traffic fatalities. The 21 year-old drinking age has forced drinking underground. Clandestine, goal-oriented, unsupervised drinking, a consequence of Legal Age 21, is putting an increasing number of young adult lives at risk.
While it is true that “the neurotoxic effect of excessive alcohol use” (MADD press release) can affect the development of the adolescent brain, no one is advocating excessive alcohol use. Researchers involved in studies of the adolescent brain have stated that, unless the drinking age is raised to 25, when the adolescent brain is fully developed, there is nothing magical about some other age. Indeed, at least one such researcher, Professor Scott Swartzwelder of Duke University, has stated that his studies do “not mean that an 18 year-old who has a beer or two every couple of weeks is doing irreparable damage to her brain. It is the 18 year-old (or 30 year-old for that matter!) who downs five or six drinks on his way to a dance that worries me.”
Thus, we mustn’t be misled by scare tactics. We must listen carefully to what scientists are saying. Most of the rest of the world, where the age is lower than 21, exhibits no evidence of brain impairment. Moderate, responsible use of alcohol poses little neurological risk. Excessive use of alcohol, at any age, may be health- or life-threatening. Clandestine drinking, fostered by Legal Age 21, raises that threat.