Senate hearing on drunk driving

On October 25, a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hear arguments put forth by MADD and its supporters. The hearing, entitled “Oversight hearing on Federal Drunk Driving Programs” will likely discuss the merits and effectiveness of ignition interlock devices. We support use of ignition interlocks in vehicles of convicted drunk drivers because they are effective in decreasing recidivism, but also know that the group assembled as witnesses today will also support maintaining the 21 year-old drinking age. We, along with our volunteers in the states represented on the subcommittee, sent along the following letter to remind the senators that there is more to the story on the drinking age:

Dear Senator,


It has come to our attention that a hearing will be held on the effectiveness of federal drunk driving initiatives this Thursday October 25. We hope that you, as a member of the subcommittee involved in the hearing, will look at all sides of this important issue, as well as the many factors related to it.  Drunk driving is a complex social problem and one that we have made huge strides in reducing over the course of the last two and a half decades.     


The ignition interlock device is likely to be presented as an example of a promising step to decrease recidivism amongst convicted drunk drivers.  While we see many benefits of that device because it deals with a specific aspect of a specific problem, we are concerned that some of its advocates also support the 21 year-old drinking age.  Our view is different and we ask that you consider all perspectives in the discussion over the drinking age and drunken driving.  For instance, you will likely hear that there are 50 studies that support the supposition that the 21 year-old drinking age has reduced alcohol-related traffic fatalities. But you probably will not hear that the same analysis (Wagenaar and Toomey, 2002) found that for the other 50 studies on the topic, there was no significant effect; in fact, 35% found no association at all between the drinking age and the decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities. 


We would also urge you to remember that more than 1,000 lives of 18-24 year-olds are lost each year in situations off the roadways—a figure that has been increasing since 1998 (Hingson et al., 2005).  Those who support a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the 21 year-old drinking age and the decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities must be forced to explain why this disturbing trend exists and, furthermore, why between 1993 and 2001 18-20 year-olds showed the largest increase in binge drinking episodes amongst American adults (Naimi, et al., 2003).  The 21 year-old drinking age must also be at least partially responsible for these alarming statistics and the growing public health problem that faces all American adolescents and young adults today. 


Thank you for acknowledging all perspectives on this complex issue.  We can assure you that there is more to the story than you will hear presented on October 25.

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