One Man's Case for a Lower Drinking Age
Also, I've been a member of the Middlebury faculty since 1976 and so I was on a college campus when the drinking age was 18. There was natural and adult intergenerational social interaction. The faculty and staff were able to model responsible drinking behavior.
Was there abusive drinking? Of course. There will always be abusive drinking. But were we using terms like "binge drinking" in the late '70s and early '80s? No. That is a phenomenon that has only arisen in the wake of Legal Age 21. I saw with my own eyes how behavior was being changed by this law.
How did you handle underage drinking when you were president?
With each violation, the penalties became more severe and ultimately led to suspension. That was an imperfect solution.
Yet haven't alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the 18 to 21 age group gone down with the higher drinking age?
I don't believe there is a cause-and-effect relationship. Fatalities have declined in every age group over the past 20 years. I think a combination of awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, safer automobiles, mandatory seat belts, airbags, designated driversall of those things have contributed to a reduction in the drunken driving problem.
How do you react to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving case for age 21? They're a major player.
They are. I give them great credit for the fact that our society is much more aware of the problem of drinking and driving than we were. And I think the reduction in alcohol-related traffic fatalities is traceable to the influence of MADD. Their latest effort is to support mandatory ignition interlocks [which test drivers' alcohol level and can prevent a car from starting] for anyone convicted of a DUI. I would love to work with MADD to help make that happen in every state legislature.
Yet to assert that if you drink before turning 21 you will lose brain capacity is not a very constructive contribution to this debate. But if you go on the MADD website, that's what you'll find.
The American Medical Association also talks about alcohol affecting learning, long- and short-term memory, personality development, and behavior problemsall the way through age 25. How do you reconcile this with your goal?
If public policy were to be based solely on medical research having to do with the adolescent brain, we should raise the age to 25. But policy needs to be based on cultural realities as well. If you're not going to set it at 25, there's nothing magical about 21.
There is a whole slice of the American population today that was allowed to drink at age 18, 19, and 20. Is there any evidence of generational brain impairment among that group? If so, let's see the evidence.