"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.