MADD forms Support 21 coalition
At a press conference today at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Conference Center in Washington, DC, MADD joined with the IIHS, NTSB, and the AMA to announce their collective support for maintaining Legal Age 21.
Why was this press conference called? Were they there to convey new research findings? Our questions exactly, perhaps phrased best by a CBS radio host who called us asking, “do they actually have something new to say?”
In a nutshell, no. The statistics and arguments are the same: emphasis on traffic fatalities and the host of negative consequences that result from drinking by people 21 and younger. The new Support 21 coalition focuses the “science” above all else, but our research and experience tells us that there is much more to the story. Many of the same papers they cite as support for maintaining the status quo tell us that more that 1,000 lives of 18-24 year-olds are being lost off the highways each year, and that that death toll has been increasing with each passing year. That statistic as well as the findings from recent CDC studies and the College Alcohol Study (Harvard School of Public Health) would tell us that the increase in loss of young life off the highways is more than likely linked to the astonishing increase in binge drinking rates and negative consequences experienced by young people. We must acknowledge that beyond the science, we are experiencing a cultural shift, marked clearly by the intensification of excessive alcohol consumption among adolescents and young adults. Drinking to intoxication is the norm for 18-20 year-olds and, unfortunately, is fast becoming the standard for younger teens as well. Beyond discussing the trends, the numbers, and the consequences, we need to question and address the culture that is encouraging that reckless and excessive behavior.
We invite Adrian Lund, director of IIHS, to tell us exactly how our “pre-scientific” and “unsubstantiated” proposal is any different from Legal Age 21. If the drinking age were based on science alone, there would be blanket prohibition, or as our colleague Scott Guenther has said “mandatory injections of alcohol for men between the ages of 50 and 65.” Why don’t we pursue either of those noble, science-based policy changes? Because we (and MADD, and IIHS, and the American public…) know that such changes are unrealistic and unworkable in practice. Alcohol plays a complex role in our society and its regulation needs to be addressed through discussions that allow for that complexity. Over 90% of individuals who drink will consume their first alcohol well before the age of 21. Alcohol is a reality in the lives of young Americans, and public policy needs to both acknowledge that reality and create the safest possible environment for it to occur.
Stay tuned for more…the debate is heating up. Incidentally, so is the weather in DC–time to get back to Vermont!