"Legal Age 21 has not worked." Yes, we know.

"Legal Age 21 has not worked." Of course, any 20-year-old could, and probably would, tell you that. But the quote in question was written by Dr. Morris Chafet, a psychiatrist who served on the presidential committee that pushed to have the legal drinking age raised to 21. That push paid off on July 17, 1984, when President Ronald Reagan signed the new drinking age into law.

Since that time, however, Chafet has apparently had a change of heart. The Los Angeles Times reports that in an editorial that has yet to be published, Chafet describes his effort to raise the drinking age as the "single most regrettable decision" of his career. "To be sure, drunk driving fatalities are lower now than they were in 1982," Chafet notes. "But they are lower in all age groups. And they have declined just as much in Canada, where the age is 18 or 19, as they have in the United States."

That observation, while welcome, hardly warrants a "better late than never" response. As Chafet also notes in his piece, the arbitrary age restriction is partially to blame for things like binge drinking, injury, and property destruction.

Simply passing a law isn't going to stop young adults from drinking, an activity that has long been a sign of adulthood. Yet because of the fear of punishment, those young adults are much less likely to seek help when the partying gets out of hand, and the results are frequently disastrous. Furthermore, underage drinking only breeds disrespect for the law. So much for keeping people safe.

Chafet may be 25 years too late. But here's hoping he can use whatever influence he has left to push for lowering the drinking age, if not abolishing it all together.

Radley Balko on the drinking age here.

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  • Mister DNA||

    Chafet may be 25 years too late. But here's hoping he can use whatever influence he has left to push for lowering the drinking age, if not abolishing it all together.



    I'm sure it's on Congress's list of things to do, right after repealing the Controlled Substance Act and the 16th Amendment.

  • JB||

    There is still a strong case to be made that the drinking age violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in states where the age of majority is 18.

    If you are a legal adult at 18, it seems very difficult to justify denying your rights.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    JB - not really: after all, all 18-year-olds are treated equally (albeit abysmally so, in this regard). There's no equal-protection issue at all. You could say that there's a Due Process violation, but...compared to other 18-year-olds? I dunno - there's not much of a case.

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    Meh, I'm 21 as of last Thursday. Time to stop caring about this, right?

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    /sarcasm

  • kilroy||

    I'll drink to that.

  • wilzyk||

    if anything. raise the voting age to 21. too many immature kids voted for Obama because they thought he was "cool".

  • ||

    JB - not really: after all, all 18-year-olds are treated equally (albeit abysmally so, in this regard).

    Whatever the merits of an equal protection argument, it doesn't fail because all 18 year-olds are treated equally. It doesn't mean protection of the laws equal only to those within some arbitrarily defined group, it means protection of the laws equal to every other person.

  • ||

    There is still a strong case to be made that the drinking age violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in states where the age of majority is 18.

    States voluntarily (with the highway funds gun to their heads) enacted the drinking age law. The 14th amendment doesn't apply at all.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Brian Courts - uh, yeah, and? I know that, but "equal to every other person"...what does that mean in this regard? That other over-21 people are treated differently than other over-18 but not 21 people?

    you're right for pointing out that I made a mistake, though - I should have realize that when I was typing. I still doubt the claim has merit.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    John-David: not to be advocato diablo or anything, but the highway-funding was (South Dakota v. Dole) was merely 5%. If a state gives away its sovereignty for 5%, that's hardly coercive.

  • ||

    Naturally, I think that a 21 drinking age is wrong on a variety of levels.

    But I must confess, as I age, I've found that I do enjoy the basic notion that anyone I meet in a bar is over 20 or can plausibly claim to be over 20. I feel bad enough about hitting on 22 year olds at this point -- it was discomforting, to say the least, to sit down at a bar in Japan next to a 17 year old.

  • ||

    It's not easy to admit that a cause you believed in and strived to implement was wrong. Dr. Morris Chafet deserves respect for facing facts and admitting error.

    Can we get him to address the MADD convention?

  • ||

    TAO,

    Fair enough, but they made the deal with the devil. South Dakota decided to go along with that, which makes them a cheap date.

  • ||

    uh, yeah, and?

    And? I didn't think any and was necessary but, since your only premise was faulty, your conclusion that there is "no equal-protection issue at all" doesn't follow.

    what does that mean in this regard? That other over-21 people are treated differently than other over-18 but not 21 people?

    Well yes, that is what it means. Those two groups of persons are treated differently.

  • Young \'Un||

    Vermont Gun Owner -

    I also turned 21 on that day. Cheers!

  • ||

    Laws treat different groups of people differently all the time. Federal age discrimination laws don't apply to people under 40, for example. I don't see an equal protection argument.

    The argument that the 21-drinking age resulted in more binge drinking sounds plausible, but I came of age in the few years before the age shifted from 18 to 21, and I recall a lot of binge drinking by me and my peers. (Actually, I don't recall some of it.)

    Are there really any empirical data to support the "binge drinking" hypothesis?

  • Rhywun||

    Are there really any empirical data to support the "binge drinking" hypothesis?



    I dunno, but there's tons of anecdotal data.... for example from those of us who lived in a European country in their mid-teens and were taught to drink responsibly by their elders. I never saw any binge drinking in Germany--not even at Oktoberfest. I see more drunk teenagers hanging out on my corner in Brooklyn on an average night today than I ever saw when living there.

  • Space Fiend||

    Of course, any 20-year-old could, and probably would, tell you that.

    20-year-old fraternity member here saying "Yup."

  • Ben Kenobi||

    On the one hand this guy should be congratulated for coming around to this view point.

    On the other I feel like its one of those things that he really should have known at the time. It was a douche move then and changing our mind now doesn't make up for that.

  • ||

    It's not easy to admit that a cause you believed in and strived to implement was wrong. Dr. Morris Chafet deserves respect for facing facts and admitting error.

    Maybe, but I will never feel anything but contempt and disgust for R. Strange McNamara.

  • Underzog||

    Due to the 26th amendment, giving 18 year olds the right to vote, this raising of the drinking age to 21 is obviously illegal.

    Personally, I'd prefer these 18 year olds to drink rather than vote because most of them are naive (unlike me who voted for Ford over Carter when I was 18).

  • MJ||

    I doubt Chafet will be able to do anything to stop the monster he helped create. Too many other groups of dubious rationality (i.e. MADD) are invested in the 21 year drinking age, as well as a matter of honor for the politicians who passed it and enforce it.

  • robc||

    I feel bad enough about hitting on 22 year olds at this point -- it was discomforting, to say the least, to sit down at a bar in Japan next to a 17 year old.

    39/2+7 = 26.5

    eh, screw it. My Dad violated that rule and he has been married to my Mom for nearly 49 years.

  • ||

    I live in Canada near the university where I currently am enrolled. Here the legal age is 18, and frankly there's plenty of binge-drinking and property damage committed by kids 18-21 years of age in my neighborhood.

    I don't think lowering the legal age to 18 in the U.S. would really change things much.

    I believe age limits probably should be abolished together, since that way teens will get experience drinking at a younger age *before* they go to college.

    In the U.S. and Canada we tell kids drinking is BAD BAD BAD and then ship them off to college, where we then expect them to magically learn how to drink responsibly overnight. And, amazingly, they end up binge drinking! I think Camille Paglia, if I remember correctly, once referred to the binge-drinking at college thing as, "a Dionysian response to Apollonian over-control."

    But, of course, abolishing drinking age limits will never happen. An elected official has zero to gain and everything to lose politically over pushing something like that.

  • robc||

    for example from those of us who lived in a European country in their mid-teens and were taught to drink responsibly by their elders. I never saw any binge drinking in Germany

    I lived in Switzerland for a short while and I saw a ton of binge drinking, all amongst the Euros. The Americans I was around at the time barely drank.

  • robc||

    Now that I think about it, most of the binge drinking was by Czechs. And from what I have learned since, wrt, Becherova (sp?) and etc., I understand why.

  • ||

    It's the Mediterraneans that tend to be much more responsible drinkers, and that's because it is not socially acceptable to get wasted. Getting shitfaced in England is considered normal and no one cares the next day, but that is not the case in Spain or Italy, for instance.

  • qwerty||

    18 for contracts
    18 for war
    18 for beer

  • Michael Ejercito||

    There is still a strong case to be made that the drinking age violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in states where the age of majority is 18.


    About as much as the age required to run for the House or the Senate.

    18 for contracts
    18 for war
    18 for beer


    18 for running for the House of Representatives

  • Andy||

    Plausible theory - just like marijuana use among teenagers in the Netherlands is lower than it is here.

  • ||

    >Plausible theory - just like marijuana use >among teenagers in the Netherlands is lower >than it is here.

    Heh. Yeah a lot of teens love doing stuff that adults tell them is "bad." In Holland they clearly have managed to de-stigmatize weed. So now it's not cool.

    I think Malcolm Gladwell some years ago made the same point about cigarettes. He argued that ads that stigmatized smoking and exaggerated its health consequences actually caused teen smoking rates to *climb*.

  • ||

    On somewhat of a tangent...

    Purist libertarians welcoming renewed rumblings about legalizing marijuana had better do a better of job of considering the larger policy problems than they have on other standard libertarian positions:

    Any 'principled' approach to legalizing (decriminalizing) weed -- which I basically support -- had better also give serious though to peripheral issues like a) set of tools (procedural and technical) for assessing and addressing DUI, and b) worse in some ways, the way the issues could be hijacked and perverted by liberals: making it almost impossible to fire stoned employees in the name of alleged 'addiction' as a medical condition and c) for which 'treatment' (the typical pointless 'rehab') must be paid for by the business, and d) for the tort lawyers to get their claws on the inevitable claims of damaged health form all that unfiltered pot smoke (once bigger corporate $$s are involved).

    Not to mention e) the tax man.

    And, more peripherally, while dialing back the War on Drugs would definitely reduce the harm due to abuses of power and corrupting influence of all that underground money *here* in the U.S.... I have yet to see any convincing arguments for how more legalization would help any of the Latin countries most damaged by and in the the thrall of their drug lords recover their political equilibrium, rather than strengthening them (the bad guys) further. Unless we blocked importation of weed from the most corrupt countries -- which would run afoul of the free trade absolutists.

  • Steve-O||

    "To be sure, drunk driving fatalities are lower now than they were in 1982," Chafet notes. "But they are lower in all age groups. And they have declined just as much in Canada, where the age is 18 or 19, as they have in the United States."

    I hate these arguments from the MADD groups etc... I believe we have come a long way since the 80s with safety devices such as airbags and crumple zones. It's the same argument with healthcare. Sure people live longer, but it may be attributed to new drugs, treatments, and advances in medicine, not necessarily government programs.

  • + ||

    Everywhere you look, that Uncle Sam image. Worse than Coca-Cola.

  • ||

    What next ? The 64 year olds coming after my Social Security? The hell you say! Those kids need to wait! One must be mature enough to responsibly collect other people's money.

    Buy your own damned politicians !!

  • ||

    The age requirements for running for US House, Senate, or President are specified in the Constitution. Normally, that's the last word on the law. But I suppose you could make a case that the 14th Amendment nullifies those clauses and requires their harmonization around a single "age of majority," because Amendments that came after the original Constitution (as well as after older Amendments) supersede the earlier language.

    So have at it, you armchair Constitutional Lawyers: Is an unintended consequence of the 14th & 27th Amendments to eliminate the age qualifications for House, Senate, and President?

  • MNG||

    TAO took his pet equal protection line out for a spin and it got wrecked against the tree of Brian Court's logic...Was there underage drinking involved?

  • ||

    I dunno, but there's tons of anecdotal data.... for example from those of us who lived in a European country in their mid-teens and were taught to drink responsibly by their elders. I never saw any binge drinking in Germany--not even at Oktoberfest. I see more drunk teenagers hanging out on my corner in Brooklyn on an average night today than I ever saw when living there. [italics added]



    Didn't go to any soccer matches, huh? ;-)

  • ||

    Wow, that is the coolest thing I ever seen!

    RT
    www.anon-web-tools.tk

  • MNG||

    You know, Jim Crow laws treated ll blacks equally too TAO...

  • Art-P.O.G.||

    qwerty alluded to it, and I still think it's dumb that a person can be a war vet and or voter but still not old enough to drink legally.

    Didn't go to any soccer matches, huh? ;-)

    Or fasching.

  • Betty Blue||

    "if anything. raise the voting age to 21. too many immature kids voted for Obama because they thought he was "cool"."

    Better still, let them vote, but only count it as 3/5 of a vote.

  • Jim||

    I think the problem is just inadequate enforcement. We should keep the age at 21, if you are caught drinking underage, you go to jail until you are 21.

  • ||

    Speaking of stupid voters, can we get a new Palin thread? Please?

  • ||

    Very interesting theoretical argument that distinctions among adults based on age violate equal protection. Of course, it will never fly, simply because too many such distinction have built up over time, and our SCOTUS isn't in the business of upsetting apple carts.

    So have at it, you armchair Constitutional Lawyers: Is an unintended consequence of the 14th & 27th Amendments to eliminate the age qualifications for House, Senate, and President?

    I don't think so. The 14th extends the privileges and immunities laid out in the Constitution to the states. Those privileges don't include running for office before the specified age.

  • Betty Blue||

    "Fair enough, but they made the deal with the devil. South Dakota decided to go along with that, which makes them a cheap date."

    If I'm not mistaken in S. Dakota, 18-20 year olds can drink 3.2 beer in 3.2 beer bars. So they can drink legally. They just have to piss a bit more.

  • ||

    Speaking of stupid voters, can we get a new Palin thread? Please?

    Palin or Biden, either one will do.

  • ||

    Yet another of the Gipper's tricks. Remember, government isn't the solution, its the problem, right? So what's the solution? More government.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Is age a protected class, MNG? Do you know?

  • JB||

    "...nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

    I don't see anything in there how some legal adults can be treated differently than other legal adults. It is unequal treatment for legal adults of age 20 as compared to the treatment of legal adults of age 21.

    Judges can wring their hands and say whatever they want; they are wrong.

  • relic||

    Socializing teens/young adults to drink in moderation and responsibly is so much more important than setting an arbitrary drinking age from 18-21.

    Between 1970 and 1975, 29 states actually lowered their drinking ages from 21 and reports showed an increase in traffic accidents and fatalities. But other reports have subsequently shown that setting the age at 21 only shifts the rate of accidents to young adults. see http://drinkingage.procon.org/ for such reports and arguments.

    So at the end of the day, parenting and education may be the key to helping people learn how to drink responsibly.

  • ||

    A study released this week has found that texting while driving is more dangerous than driving drunk.

    I told this to a teenage boy and he said that he doesn't need to take his eyes off the road "to text". I asked him how he could read a text without taking his eyes off the road. He didn't consider reading a text to be part of texting.

    Moral of this story: probably careful driver education has more to do with safe driving than anything else. Young adults (or anyone for that matter) don't tend to focus much on what has never happened to them. So simply reporting to them that some activity is not safe and hoping that they will apply that information to their behavior is futile.

  • ||

    College is the big thing here, to have friends who live with you who can legally drink well, what's the point of not touching alcohol for 3 years in a situation like that?

  • ||

    No matter what the age, a night spent in a dorm bathroom uking your guts out after a night of partying goes a long way to teaching responsible drinking. It did for me.

  • ||

    if anything. raise the voting age to 21. too many immature kids voted for Obama because they thought he was "cool".

    You forgot about the 21 to 70 age bracket who voted for him for the same reason.

  • ||

    Why do people always bring up the drinking age? why not the ridiculousness of purchasing of tobacco age, or age of consent laws(where it is 18)?

  • دردشه عراقية||

    Thanks

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