Alcohol And Driving
They’re sharing a drink called loneliness
Currently, a small debate is buzzing across parts of America. Since 2008 is an election year, politics are on the list of topics to cover, whether it is on the news, or at a social gathering, or even just talking at family dinner. But, a topic that is getting a lot of attention, on all three of the previous levels, is the United States legal drinking age. Very few countries throughout the world have a drinking age that is not 18, and while one must be at lease 18 to drink publicly, or purchase alcohol in Europe, enjoying a spirit is embraced, and often times encouraged. “Irish Minister of State, speaking about his own country, captured the European inclination: “People used to drink for pleasure, but now many teens are drinking to get plastered. The teens that are provided with alcohol at home are less expected to do the heaviest types of drinking” (Alcohol Statistics in Europe, 2007). The purpose of this essay is to discover if the drinking age in the United States is adequate, in that it will not create more alcohol related accidents, if the 18 year old drinking age in Europe, which is where America got its roots from is working, and what the general American consensus is about changing the drinking age.
Alex Johnson, a lead anchor for MSNBC did a news report about the debate on lowering the drinking age and based on the materials he concluded that it is not going to happen this time at the ballot box. “The proposal, which is the subject of a national petition driven by the National Youth Rights Association, has been studied in a handful of states in recent years including Florida, Wisconsin, Vermont and Missouri, where supporters are pushing a ballot initiative.” (Johnson, 2007). Johnson explains that “advocates”, from groups such as the National Youth Rights Association, are standing behind the thinking that “…teenagers who are allowed to vote and fight for their country should also be able to enjoy a beer or two.” (Johnson, 2007). While this is often times the only argument citizens of the United States have for lowering the drinking age, it seems valid in many people’s eyes.
There are just as many people supporting this change in the American way of life as there are people opposing. “Opponents of the idea point to a reported rise in binge drinking as teenagers increasingly turn to hard liquor as proof that minors should not be allowed to drink, but proponents look at the same data and draw the opposite conclusion.” (Johnson, 2007). Upon research, one realizes that there are major dangers in making such a drastic change. If congress decides to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18 means that a senior in high school has the same rights as a junior in college, and by no means when comparing the two are they even on a similar level because of that 18 year olds lack of life experience. David J. Hanson, an alcohol expert at SUNY Potsdam had this to say”Raising the drinking age to 21 was passes with the very best of intentions, but it’s had the very worst of outcomes… Just like during national Prohibition, the law has pushed and forced underage drinking and youthful drinking underground, where we have no control over it.” (Johnson, 2007).
As one may have guessed, with advocates like the Nation Youth Rights Association, the adversaries to lower the drink are meeting them with a group of angry mothers. Mother’s Against Drunk Driving is an organization in which mothers who lost a child due to drinking and driving, or who just want to prevent alcohol related injuries have released some staggering statistics as to why lower the drinking age is a dreadful idea. Kyran P. Quinlan discovered that “in 2002, 2.3% of Americans 18 and older surveyed reported that they drove while impaired by alcohol, compared with only 2.1% in 1997.” (Quinlan, 2002). The United States has a reported population of 303,800,836, so that means that 6,987,419.228 people have driven drunk. That may seem like a small percentage but the National Highway and Safety Traffic Administration reports that “In 2006, an estimated 17,602 people died in alcohol-related traffic crashes—an average of one every 30 minutes. These deaths constitute 41 percent of the 42,642 total traffic fatalities. Of these, an estimated 13,470 involved a driver with an illegal BAC (.08 or greater)” (2006 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment , 2007).
When America colonized it broke from a European country called England, and with that She took many European ways. While one may be able to find traces of different European influences in modern day times, the drinking age between the two is a striking contrast. “Currently, most countries forbid the sales of alcohol to teens under a specified age (defined by law) in bars, clubs, and English pubs, although there is still are 4 countries in which there’s no legal policy concerning the selling of alcohol to teen in shops.” (Alcohol Statistics in Europe, 2007). The lack of policy enforcement makes getting alcohol so much easier for teens, which often times end in tragedy. “Statistics show that by far the greatest alcohol related killer is drink-driving. A current estimate is that 10 thousand deaths in drinking under the influence accidents occur each year involving people other than the driver, with a high percent of alcohol-related crime also very likely to happen to others. From this figures, Germany has 17% alcohol contribution to the EU’s drink-driving accidents.” (Alcohol Statistics in Europe, 2007). The number of deaths during 2005 in the United States was 16,855 according to the 2006 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They report”alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes kill someone every 21 minutes and fatally injure someone every two minutes” (2005 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment, 2006)
It is evident that the concern is for the teenager because the main problem with lowering the drinking age would be the elevation in the alcohol related accidents. The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s Injury Prevention center explains why teenage drinking and driving is different than anyone in a dissimilar age bracket. “Due to the lace of driving experience, teens are less proficient at detecting and reacting to dricing hazards, controlling the car, and adjusting the rate of speed in variable conditions. Adolescent driving habits are also influenced by peers pressure, emotions and other stress factors.” they go on to say, “Night driving is more difficult and a teen-ager is four times more likely to be killed while driving at night than during the day.” (Injury Prevention-Drinking and driving, 2007) In the National Highway Safety report in 2005 the numbers were a little high, so one could argue that it is possible drinking and driving has began to decline. “The rate of alcohol involvement in fatal crashes is more than 3 times higher at night than during the day (59 percent vs. 18 percent). For all crashes, the alcohol involvement rate is 5 times higher at night (16 percent vs. 3 percent).” (Traffic Safety Facts 2005: Alcohol, 2006).
All and all both the arguments for and against the lowering of the drinking age are compelling. But just what is the belief of the American people? And are the voters going to push the lowering of the drinking age on the ballot, when the possibility of marijuana decriminalization may be right above it? By and large the answer seems to be no. Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has an answer to this question as published in Newsweek. “The Illinois senator was taping a round-table discussion with eight veterans that is to be broadcast by MTV on the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war.”I know it drives you nuts. But I’m not going to lower the drinking age,” the presidential candidate said.” (RAUM, 2008). For a Presidential candidate to make such a bold and clean cut statement like that shows that it is not something that the majority of voters will like, so the United States is not ready to do such a big change like this.
It is not in human nature to like change, and things that go along with changing anything. Maybe even for only one instance there is something inside everybody that hears announced change and resents it. Some may choose to deal with it, while others refuse to even think about it. This is known as denial. The psychological website shed some light on change. “In managing the initial announcement, the key is to do just that: manage it. Rather than just announce is, first think about the effects that it will have and stage the communication in a way to have the impact and effect that you desire, rather than resulting in a bloody mess that turns what at first seemed to be an easy change into what more resembles open warfare.” (The psychology of change, 2006). This quote is brilliant because it explains that in order to change something it must be considered, and have all repercussions considered. It is not something good for the United States right now, and it is not good for teenagers just getting their license. But there is always an antagonist and this time his name is John M. McCardell, the former president of Middlebur College in Vermont, who this year set up a non-profit organization called Choose Responsibility to push for a lower drinking age. “The law was changed in 1984, and the law had a very specific purpose, and that was to prohibit drinking among those under the age of 21. The only way to measure the success of the law is to ask ourselves whether 23 years later those under 21 are not drinking.” (Johnson, 2007).
2006 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment . (2007, 1 12). Retrieved 3 31, 2008, from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/810791.PDF
Alcohol Statistics in Europe. (2007). Retrieved March 31, 2008, from ALcohol in teens in Europe: http://alcohol-statistics-in-europe.own69.com/
Injury Prevention-Drinking and driving. (2007, 7 25). Retrieved 3 31, 2008, from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC: www.chp.com/injuryprevention
Johnson, A. (2007). Debate on lowering drinking age bubbling up. New York City, NY: MSNBC.
Quinlan, K. P. (2002). American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Alcohol-Impaired Driving Among US Adults, 1993-2002.” , p. 1.
RAUM, T. (2008, 3 18). Obama tells vets no lower drinking age. Newsweek , p. 2.
The psychology of change. (2006). Retrieved 4 4, 2008, from Changing Minds: http://changingminds.org/disciplines/change_management/psychology_change/psychology_change.htm
Traffic Safety Facts 2005: Alcohol. (2006). Retrieved 3 31, 2008, from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSF2005/AlcoholTSF05.pdf