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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lower the drinking age 

Glenn Reynolds argues that the drinking age should go back down to 18, and that the Republicans should lead the charge.

Republicans are supposed to be against mandates aimed at the states, so this would demonstrate consistency. Second, it's a pro-freedom move that younger voters—not yet confronted with the impact of, say, the capital-gains tax—can appreciate on a personal level. Third, it puts the Democrats in the position of having either to support the end of a federal mandate—something they tend to reflexively oppose—or to look like a bunch of old fuddy-duddies themselves.

Principle and politics. If the Republicans in Congress don't pick up on this issue, we're going to have to wonder what they've been drinking.

When I was but a lad of 16, Iowa raised the drinking age to 19 and then 21. I was "grandfathered," but still sufficiently objected to the change that I wrote Governor Robert Ray, who had reversed himself to sign the legislation. Iowa being Iowa, Governor Ray called me at home so we could discuss the issue soberly, as two Iowans would do, after which civil conversation we agreed to disagree.

So my bona fides on this issue go back some way.

That said, I would qualify my enthusiasm for a lower drinking age by pairing it with tougher oversight of teen drivers. Various of the Canadian provinces, I am given to understand, permit drinking at 18 but have a mandatory suspension of the driver's license of any young probationary driver caught with any alcohol in his bloodstream. A good idea, I think, because it teaches the habit of not drinking and driving.

Regardless, there should be no drinking age, or a very low one, to serve minors who are under the supervision of their parents, whether at home or in restaurants. Yes, I believe it should be lawful to buy one's 15 year old son a beer or a glass of wine over dinner.

Release the hounds.

28 Comments:

By Blogger Mr. Bingley, at Wed Apr 13, 07:20:00 AM:

When I was in Virgina they had a "drinking apprentice" program. If I recall correctly one could drink beer at 18, wine at 19 and everything at 21.

Seemed quite civilized.  

By Anonymous feeblemind, at Wed Apr 13, 08:15:00 AM:

Some years back, the state police busted a New Year's party in my area attended by underage kids who were imbibing. The party was being supervised by the president of the school board.

Not being a parent, I took an informal poll among parents I knew, asking them their opinion. I expected strong condemnation for the school board president. Instead I was surprised that they were sympathetic to his plight.

Most seemed to think teen drinking was alright if supervised by adults. The thinking went, better to teach a kid his limits in a supervised setting rather than out in a car with his friends on a country road.  

By Blogger Brent Buckner, at Wed Apr 13, 09:32:00 AM:

I really dislike having the drinking age higher than the voting age.  

By Anonymous Bill Banfield, at Wed Apr 13, 10:28:00 AM:

If a young man or woman can join the military at 18, train and be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan and vote at that age, then in my mind it is absolutely criminal that they can not purchase a simple beer or a glass of wine or a drink.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Apr 13, 11:16:00 AM:

I grew up in New York back when the drinking age was 18. I turned 18 about halfway through my senior year in high school and damn near didn't graduate. I support lowering the drinking age to 18 for anyone serving in the military. But, as a general rule, leave it at 21.  

By Blogger Willuz, at Wed Apr 13, 11:25:00 AM:

How about making high school graduation a requirement to drink between 18 and 21 and put it on their drivers license? This would help keep alcohol abuse in high school down and would might even provide a more tangible incentive for teens to graduate. Many teens don't seem to realize what a difference education makes because "their future" is so intangible. Alcohol is a more immediate reward for graduation. Alcohol kept me in college for 9 years so it must be great right?  

By Blogger Stack Trace, at Wed Apr 13, 11:26:00 AM:

38 year-old father of a young boy here. I say lower it to 18, knowing full well that my son will one day be 18. Anyone who is under 21 can already get booze, but now they have to sneak around to get it, and act like idiots while doing so. Also, there's evidence that this sneaking pushes a lot of college kids to binge drink -- to drink an insane amount of alcohol whenever they can get it, and then go out and party/drive/whatever. (I witnessed this directly, with my brother and sister, who are considerably younger than I am.) They are *going* to drink, they are autonomous adults (old enough to die in war), and we should not hassle them this way. It is counter-productive for everyone.

To Anon @ 11:16 -- Would your experience have been that much different, even if the legal age had been 21? Or would you have just been sneaking around? It's an honest question, not a jab.

Also, a reasonable and consistent policy might be "You must be 18 *and* have graduated high school, if you are still enrolled.". Although this could have the unintended consequence of encouraging some people to drop out! So maybe you add a clause there, so that drop-outs don't get legal booze until they are 20 or something. Or just make it very simple -- 18 and finished with HS, or you have to wait until you are 21, like a big loser. Use that social stigma for some good. :)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Apr 13, 11:39:00 AM:

All of the comments above are interesting and generally have what I think are good policy proposals. The HS graduation requirement plus 18 would seem a good idea as would adult supervised drinking (which is how they start teaching you how to drive after all - at least in Iowa you can get a learners permit allowing you to drive with an adult in the car at age 14).

However, they all seem to miss the point, and the point is that these are decisions that should be made by states, and not the federal government. If California (for example) wants to keep the drinking age at 18, let them, but I don't see why that should prevent another state from setting it at a lower age.

In fact, I think the federal government should not try to set the drinking age at any set age at all. So, if a state wants to eliminate the drinking age completely, let them.

Brent  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Apr 13, 11:54:00 AM:

"Anyone who is under 21 can already get booze, but now they have to sneak around to get it, and act like idiots while doing so. Also, there's evidence that this sneaking pushes a lot of college kids to binge drink -- to drink an insane amount of alcohol whenever they can get it, and then go out and party/drive/whatever."

This. Our current laws run counter to our culture (how's that for democracy?) and are foolish and counter-productive.

Though intrigued by the Canadian approach described here, I'm not a fan of increased criminalization of anything, especially for purposes of social engineering. I fear that it would lead to the deliberate targeting (and mandatory testing, since the standard of culpability is "any" and you can have alcohol in your system without exhibiting symptoms) of younger drivers. Also, the mandatory suspension of a license for a .001 is drastic and prone to miscarriage of justice; do you want to remove a young adult from the workforce or sabotage an education (cuz they can't get to work or school) because they use mouthwash, or took communion, or even just drank (legally) the previous night?

I think we need to get away from this bizarre modern concept that 18 year olds are, despite being legal adults with the power to sign contracts, marry, and go to war, still 'children' who deserve special restrictions. 200 years ago, you were a full adult at 15 or 16 and civilization trundled along just fine. The infantilization of grown adults is a disgusting modern aberration that encourages irresponsibility and juvenile behavior long after it is justified by nature.

/waits for Cassandra to come breathe fire  

By Blogger Foxfier, at Wed Apr 13, 12:09:00 PM:

Regardless, there should be no drinking age, or a very low one, to serve minors who are under the supervision of their parents, whether at home or in restaurants. Yes, I believe it should be lawful to buy one's 15 year old son a beer or a glass of wine over dinner.

Much agreed.

My folks let the kids sip whatever they were drinking (which had the effect of putting me off drinking until I was over 21... whiskey highball [water, not soda] or beer, ew!) and my husband's grandparents always gave the kids a glass of wine with the Special Dinners.

Dawnfire82 has a point, especially since the breathalysers can give false positives as they are currently used.
Chewing gum, for example, has an "alcohol sugar" in it- this is why you're not supposed to eat or drink anything for something like 30 minutes before a breathalyser test. An infected tooth or a yeast infection can also cause a positive result when you haven't had a thing to drink.

That all said, I support kicking it back to the states... even though I live in a state where they'll probably bump the age up to 24 as part of their prohibition frenzy.  

By Anonymous sirius, at Wed Apr 13, 12:42:00 PM:

"Regardless, there should be no drinking age, or a very low one, to serve minors who are under the supervision of their parents, whether at home or in restaurants. Yes, I believe it should be lawful to buy one's 15 year old son a beer or a glass of wine over dinner."

To suggest otherwise not only infantilizes minors, but also their parents. In such instance, the State (Federal OR Regional government) should have no say in the matter.  

By Anonymous alanstorm, at Wed Apr 13, 02:37:00 PM:

If we MUST attach behaviors to certain ages (a point which is a whole 'nother argument), I propose a trade: Let's lower the drinking age to 18 and raise the voting age to 25.  

By Blogger TOF, at Wed Apr 13, 02:41:00 PM:

Having descended from Germans, no one in our family ever thought much about the propriety of letting kids have a sip of an alcoholic beverage -- or two.

I recall that when we celebrated Thanksgiving or Christmas at my grandparents, when we kids got too rowdy, Grandma would break out the Mogen David and 7-Up. After a glass of that mixture the kids calmed right down. Dad let us have a small glass from his bottle of Griesedeick beer on a hot summer day -- sometimes. And we always discovered where Dad kept his bottle of Jim Beam hidden. I never did cultivate a tast for bourbon.  

By Blogger Mojo, at Wed Apr 13, 04:04:00 PM:

I grew up in Northern Illinois and was 18 when they changed the drinking age from 19 to 21. I'm lucky to have survived the road trips to Wisconsin where it was still 18. They only changed it because the Feds threatened to cut off their federal highway money. I now live in Europe where the drinking age for beer and wine is 16 but the driving age is 18. That seems to work pretty well here but we have great public transportation (trams, trains) that you lack in the States.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Apr 13, 04:08:00 PM:

Like everyone else here, I do not understand why the magic age is 21. I also agree that drunk driving, regardless of age, needs to be aggressively dealt with (as i think we do).

My own children have been served alcohol since they were kids (beer), when they're willing to work on hot summer days especially, and since early teenage years for wine. We aren't big mixed drinkers in our house and so we don't serve those drinks, but we also don't lock stuff away either. If one of my children wanted a gin and tonic, I suppose they could have one (though it would raise an eyebrow, I admit).

Our goal in these parenting behaviors was (and still is with our youngest) to encourage responsible drinking habits in our children and discourage binge, self-destructive drinking. We frequently point out how ugly drunks are at house parties too (so be on your good behavior when you are at my house!), and we talk about the alcoholism disease, as a way of further encouraging responsible self control. With two children in college I can say that I am glad we taught drinking at our house because college kids sure as hell are drinking alcohol in large amounts and it's our belief that our kids are better equipped than many to deal with that fact.

It's stupid to have a 21 drinking age, and I've never understood a national drinking age either.  

By Blogger jeff, at Wed Apr 13, 04:27:00 PM:

wine and beer was always available in our house. Grandpop owned a bar. He felt that if you teach young people that these are beverages to be had with food it will enhance the dining experience. The forbiden is always desired. Make it more accessable and I suspect it wll be less abused  

By Blogger DEC, at Wed Apr 13, 05:42:00 PM:

I occasionally drank tiny glassses of Piper-Heidsieck champagne when I was six years old.

At the age of eight, I got a little tipsy on Rémy Martin cognac. My mother sent me to bed when she saw me wink at the governor's trophy wife.

I never drank much of anything except water, coffee, and fruit juice during my adult life.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Apr 13, 10:09:00 PM:

in a country where cities & counties have ordinances *requiring* kids on bikes to wear those retarded helmets; where in some places kids can't bring their own lunches to school; where kids get expelled from grade school for having a butter knife, or a pair of blunt scissors, or an aspirin in their backpack; where leaving a kid in the car alone for 2 minutes on a 60 degree day, while you dash into the 7-11 where you can see him/her the whole time will get you *arrested for child endangerment*.....

you REALLY think they're going to lower the drinking age? and in doing so, put (cue heavenly chorus) **The Children** at risk? even if the risk is miniscule?

c'mon, dude, you're just jacking with us, right?  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Thu Apr 14, 08:11:00 AM:

I think we need to get away from this bizarre modern concept that 18 year olds are, despite being legal adults with the power to sign contracts, marry, and go to war, still 'children' who deserve special restrictions. 200 years ago, you were a full adult at 15 or 16 and civilization trundled along just fine. The infantilization of grown adults is a disgusting modern aberration that encourages irresponsibility and juvenile behavior long after it is justified by nature.../waits for Cassandra to come breathe fire

Dawnfire, darlin' (spoken in my best Virginia drawl)

I hope you won't be disappointed to hear that I agree with you :p

From the time they were quite young, we always offered our boys a *small* (befitting their weight) glass of wine with holiday dinners or on special occasions. We didn't drink alcohol with dinner most days - couldn't afford to.

I will say that I'm not quite broad-minded (pun fully intended!) to declare all adult pastimes equal. FWIW, I always assumed my sons would do as I did when I was a teen: namely, try anything they could get away with and a few things they couldn't. That's how kids learn.

I'm not in favor of criminalizing behavior unless it recklessly endangers 3rd parties (drunk driving) or unless one person is clearly preying on another (an adult man having sex with a young girl). Kids aren't adults, but they also aren't completely helpless. They do better when we train them to live in the real world.  

By Anonymous Volvo Air Conditioner Compressor, at Fri Apr 15, 07:33:00 AM:

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By Blogger Mac from Michigan, at Fri Apr 15, 09:24:00 AM:

Foxfire -

Can you give me some cites regarding yeast or tooth infections giving a false positive?

I've been on assignment to a local county prosecutor's office for over 30 years and have never (nor has our OUIL prosecutor) heard of that phenomenon.  

By Blogger Foxfier, at Fri Apr 15, 09:52:00 AM:

I only heard about it *from* the police at China Lake and researched from there. ^.^

Technically, it's not a false positive with candida yeast infection -- that does raise the BAC, it's just not from drinking.

Similarly, with the methyl structure breathalysers, it is measuring what's on the breath-- it's just not alcohol and not related to the blood alcohol level. (When you're fasting or diabetic, for example, the stuff your body gives off will trigger a methyl sensor; it's that stuff that only some folks can smell.) Should be on the label of whatever you're using.

Thus the legal ability (at least in those states I've looked) to refuse a breathalyser and take a blood test instead. Naturally, the non-disposable breathalysers are more accurate, and tend to use proper procedure before the test.

Since you didn't mention it, I'm assuming you're very familiar with the fifteen minute rule (it varies, but that's the one that stuck in my mind) about food or water to prevent bad readings there-- it's just like any test, it's fairly accurate at what it is testing for, not necessarily what we are USING it for.  

By Blogger Foxfier, at Fri Apr 15, 09:52:00 AM:

*heartattack* The dang thing tried to eat my post....  

By Blogger Mac from Michigan, at Fri Apr 15, 11:34:00 AM:

Foxfier -

Interesting. Here in Michigan (YMMV) it's a 15 minute rule. And our apa OUIL specialist mentioned that she's seen the PBT result vs the Datamaster result vary as little as .01 and as much as .05, depending on the time between testing. If its a local pd, close to the jail, the results are closer then when an outlying agency transports one in.

Best  

By Blogger Foxfier, at Fri Apr 15, 11:41:00 AM:

Sounds like your folks have been doing really good with following the proper testing procedure!

(Hey, I may not be doing the job at the moment, but I am a calibration technician-- I love hearing about folks doing things properly.)  

By Anonymous Rintojen Suurennus, at Fri Apr 15, 12:30:00 PM:

Im originally from Finland and there the legal drinking age is 18 and kids also get their drivers lisence at the age of 18.. and no major problems with drinking and driving. I say lower it to 18..  

By Anonymous Bird of Paradise, at Tue Apr 26, 01:51:00 AM:

Dont lower the drinking age and use your copy of the crap movie SIDEWAYS for target practice  

By Blogger ruralcounsel, at Mon May 02, 08:38:00 AM:

"...but have a mandatory suspension of the driver's license of any young probationary driver caught with any alcohol in his bloodstream. A good idea, I think,..."

As someone with some familiarity with the science of DUI, let me point out that the breathalyzers don't detect ethanol exclusively, but can falsely report many organic compounds as "alcohol". Diabetics are known to have ketones that will falsely register, as do some folks with unusual diets or metabolisms. The presumed metabolic rate of ethanol breakdown used to ascertain BAC during time of driving, rather than the time the blood sample was drawn and tested hours later at the police station or hospital are also suspect.

4th Amendment law has been largely eviscerated in DUI due to legal presumptions made to make ease of enforcement the end-all and be-all.  

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