Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The LDA: The issue is responsibility, not age

There's an editorial published at Forbes.com that's sure to raise some eyebrows. Will Wilkinson suggests that instead of lowering the legal drinking age, consideration should be given to doing away with it all together. This is sure to get a raised eyebrow from neo-prohibitionist groups like MADD, and even from those who support lowering the LDA to 18. Wilkinson explains:
UCLA professor of public policy Mark Kleiman, an ex-advocate of age restrictions, told PBS that he came around to the no-limits position when he saw a billboard that said, "If you're not 21, it's not Miller Time--yet." 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.

That's not a new argument against the 21 LDA, but it certainly takes it more than a few steps further. However, the more interesting point of the editorial to me, is the connection to be made with driving and responsibility. This speaks to the original, and agreeable, purpose behind MADD, reducing the deaths from mixing alcohol and cars. Driving and drinking don't mix. I doubt you'll get many arguments there. However, driving and a car full of teens doesn't mix either. Neither does driving and texting, or putting on makeup, or reading a newspaper. Perhaps it's time to put the focus on responsibility when driving. Says Wilkinson:
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.

The consumption of alcohol isn't bad in and of itself. It's what you do in conjunction. So much effort from MADD and others is focused on telling us that young people aren't responsible enough to consume alcohol. The problem is that they aren't taught to be responsible for their actions. It's been my observation that most drunk driving arrests aren't of teens, but supposed adults. Teen deaths from car accidents have more to do with speed than alcohol.

The debate over the LDA in this country is heating up, thanks in no small part to the Amethyst Initiative. I am happy to see it brought to the forefront and editorials like this one will only serve to keep the conversation going. It doesn't matter if you agree with the premise or not. The first step in solving a problem is understanding it.

The complete Forbes article is here.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is part of our wider cultural malaise. We have become so hung up on our "rights" as citizens that we have forgotten that rights come with responsibilities, for example the right to vote comes with the responsibility to be informed. Unfortunately it seems Western civilisation is falling into a similar trap as afflicted the communist bloc, people became careless of society, expecting the State to sort everything out. The right of indivudal freedom is inextricably linked to a responsibility for wider society. Is it any wonder then, having digressed rather gloriously, that young people are irresponsible drinkers? What positive role model of responsibility are there in modern Western culture?

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