18 or 21?

The U.S. has the highest drinking age in the world, and every few years a chorus starts up about how we should lower it. Interestingly enough, the latest chorus is composed of college administrators. More than 100 U.S. colleges have signed a statement asking the nation to consider lowering the drinking age to 18. The statement compares the current drinking age to Prohibition, noting, “Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.”

College administrators fear that the current drinking age leads to surreptitious and binge drinking. Students drink heavily before they go out, because they know they won’t have access to alcohol in public, leading to some cases of alcohol poisoning and drunk driving.

“We have a crisis on our hands. We need some new ideas and new thinking,” William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the Maryland state university system, told the Baltimore Sun.

In the past, states have tried to get creative with bills that would allow 18- to 20-year-olds to purchase alcohol in restaurants but not liquor shops, or to drink after they complete an alcohol education program.

National surveys, however, indicate that most people support keeping the drinking age at 21. A recent study showed that drinking-related traffic deaths among youth had declined by 11 percent since the 1980s, when the nationally recommended drinking age of 21 went into effect. Opponents, however, claim such fatalities were already in decline before most states switched to 21.

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