Drinking age is an ineffective control

The real problem is the student culture surrounding alcohol use.

In the United States, a citizen must be 18 years old to vote, 18 years old to serve in the military and sign contracts, 18 years old to smoke and 16 years old to drive a car. But to have a beer, a U.S. citizen must be 21 years old.

The vast majority of foreign countries set the drinking age lower without more alcohol problems; allowing adults to drink earlier will reduce the forbidden allure of alcohol and allow them to learn their limits; minors will always drink and it wastes law-enforcement resources to police such activities. The counter-arguments are convincing: Statistics do show that raising the drinking age keeps younger adults from drinking, and correlates with reductions in alcohol-related automobile accidents.

The United States’ problem is not in the drinking age itself, but in the culture surrounding alcohol use. Adolescents learn that binge drinking is fun and cool, and underage drinking is fairly easy to get away with at house parties and by using fake identification. Despite the best efforts of programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education and Students Against Destructive Decisions, 28.7 percent of people aged 12 to 20 reported using alcohol in 2004, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The goal of programs aimed at reducing drunken driving should be to encourage responsible use and planning for designated drivers. Students, even those of age, do not usually plan to get drunk and drive home. It often happens inadvertently, and ideally the student culture must change to reflect that this is unacceptable.

A major problem in the United States is its ineffectual drunken driving laws, or rather, the punishments associated with them. Countries such as Germany enforce much more serious consequences and have far fewer alcohol-related accidents than the United States or Canada, despite that its citizens consume 70 percent more alcohol than what Canadians do. The age-21 laws for drinking in the United States are fixing a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. But until the culture of drinking in this country changes, we will be stuck with it.