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One drinking age

February 9, 1984



Many highway safety experts were appalled a few years back when a number of states around the United States began to lower their drinking ages. On the surface the argument for doing so seemed reasonable enough: If a person was old enough to vote at 18, or serve in the military, the rationale went, he or she should be considered old enough to buy drinks.

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The problem, as portrayed by safety experts, is that most young people simply would not have developed sufficient driving skills by age 18 or 19 to handle a car and drink at the same time. That is not to say, of course, that older drivers with greater driving experience should drink and drive at the same time. No one can successfully mix liquor and driving.

Congress should approve current legislation that would forbid the sale of liquor to people everywhere in the US who are under the age of 21. It would perhaps be better if such a restriction could be imposed on a state-by-state basis, as recommended by the President's Commission on Drunk Driving. But such an approach would take years, and most likely not be successful, given the clout of liquor interests in some states. Having a uniform rule makes far better sense.

Such a rule need not be seen as punitive. Studies show that teen-agers, unfortunately, are involved in 25 percent of all alcohol-related road fatalities.