Educational leaders discuss the drinking age

John McCardell and Jeff Levy, member of the MADD Board of Directors, had essays featured in the May/June issue of Trusteeship magazine.  Trusteeship is distributed to members of governing boards at colleges and universities around the country, and is widely read by the leaders of higher education. 

Should Congress amend the National Minimum Drinking Age Act?

John McCardell’s perspective

Jeff Levy’s perspective

What do you think? Tell us which argument you find more convicing.

3 Responses to “Educational leaders discuss the drinking age”

  1. Carrie Says:

    I agree with John McCardell. As a parent of a young adult between the age of 18 and 21 they find it very hard to socialize with their friends from school and work place. It is contridicting to tell an 18 year old, you are an adult however, we don’t trust you to go out with your friends to have a drink. Frankly the only people I see leaving bars drunk and driving are the 45+ year olds who should know better, yet they still do it. It is time we give back our young people all the freedoms of being an adult. We as Americans expect our young adults to go fight for us, as well, another contridicting thing. The young people of today are better educated than we were when we were young adults.
    Another reason why I am writing and support this, is my young adult student. Recently she went to kareoke, a place where she has been going for almost a year, and was told to leave because she was not 21. Then was asked to leave a restaurant she had been at with her friends that were 21 to leave after 10pm. They are at a tough enough age, this just adds to it. They make friends in their college enviroment or military enviroment with older people yet there not able to socialize with them in the evenings. MADD you need to really wake up, these young people are still drinking and like McCardell said, in dark places because they cannot do it in public. I hope that this law gets changed back to 18 and I hope it is put to a vote on the election ballot of this years election.

  2. Richard Kent Says:

    I agree with Jeff Levy. The arguments forwarded by John McCardell are true, but misleading. Let’s go through them.

    – The decline in alcohol-related fatalities began earlier in 1982. True. States started passing 21 MDAs in 1975, so you would assume that fatalities should be dropping. In fact, they were dropping since 1980, which was when NHTSA started measuring them.

    They were dropping exclusively among 18-25 year olds. Between 1983 and 1989, where there was an immense drop in fatalities, the only two age groups that dropped were 16-20 year olds and 21-25 year olds. All the other ones went up. Clearly, something happened in the meantime to that age group to cause the decline. If safer cars or stronger enforcement caused the decline, it would have gone across age groups.

    – Some studies don’t show a relationship between drops in fatalities and the drinking age. Also true. These were largely because the sample sizes are too small, not because the studies prove there is no effect.

    What you can say for certain is that not one single study — literally no high quality, peer reviewed studies — that support Dr. McCardell’s contention that the 21 minimum drinking age has made things more dangerous. So when four decades of scholarship weigh against no scholarship, I know what I’m going to believe.

    – More than 1000 lives are lost off the highway due to drinking. True. Dr. McCardell doesn’t look, however, at what this number was in 1980, before the drinking age passed. It was 1800. Literally 800 lives are saved per year off the highway in addition to those saved on the highway and those lives were saved during the time that the nation moved to 21. Thus, this argument actually proves the opposite of what Dr. McCardell claims.

    To look at a “scary” number like a thousand lives and to provide no context for it is either intellectually laziness or dishonesty.

  3. grace Says:

    From [CR] Director John McCardell

    First, Mr. Kent states that “between 1983 and 1989, where there was an immense drop in fatalities, the only two age groups that dropped were 16-20 year olds and 21-25 year olds.” That assertion is false. According to Hingson and Winter (2003), between 1983 and 1989 alcohol-related traffic fatalities dropped in every age group except age 30-45. Indeed, alcohol-related fatalities in the 16-20 age group went UP significantly between 1985 and 1986.

    Second, Mr. Kent agrees that half the studies undertaken show a positive relationship between the higher drinking age and the decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities and half do not. He is also correct that the other half show no relationship whatsoever. And that is precisely the point: that half of the peer-reviewed studies show no relationship between the two variables. This is not a case of “four decades of scholarship weighing against no scholarship;” it is a case of four decades of scholarship reaching an inconclusive position on the cause-and-effect relationship between law and fatalities. To suggest otherwise is to … well, … mislead?

    Finally, Mr. Kent misunderstands the point about alcohol-related fatalities off the highways in the 18-24 age group. We agree with him that “to look at a ‘scary’ number like a thousand lives and to provide no context for it is either intellectually laziness or dishonesty.” To our knowledge, before the Hingson et al studies which were published in 2001 and 2005 but based on data collected between 1998 and 2001, there had been no study, never mind recording, of non-highway, alcohol-related accidental deaths (perhaps Mr. Kent could direct us to his source for 1800 such deaths in 1980). According to the two studies by Hingson and colleagues, the number of such fatalities has been going up at an alarming rate and now stands well above 1,000 per year. The most generous estimates of lives saved annually, in all age groups, by Legal Age 21, is 1,000, and alcohol-related traffic fatalities reached a 10-year high in 2006. Highs aren’t reached when the trend is downward.