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The United States’ National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 (NMDAA) set out to ensure that all states raised the minimum public possession and purchase age to 21. This was linked to the fact that there were many vehicle accidents occurring among the young adult and teenage population in connection with drinking and driving, (Most, 2013). This essay will explore the minimum drinking age in the U.S., and decide whether it should be lowered to people who are 18 years old. While there were obvious problems in connection to young people drinking and driving during the time the NMDAA was set out, a considerable amount of education about the negative results of excessive drinking has recently ensured these numbers would not repeat themselves if the U.S. decided to lower the legal drinking age to 18.

America should take note of what other countries are doing in order to decide where to set the legal drinking age in the United States. The average legal drinking age throughout the world is 15.9, according to research at Postdam College (Minimum, 2013). The United Kingdom goes as far as to only prohibit children younger than six years old from drinking. However, the majority of nations have a minimum legal drinking age of 18. “Internationally, the average age at which drinking alcohol first occurs is 12 years and about 80% of young people begin drinking alcoholic beverages regularly at age 15 or younger, according to the World Health Organization (Minimum, 2013).

However, some would argue that the U.S. should not create its laws based on what other nations have decided is acceptable. After all, the federal government made the decision to increase the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 because lobby group “Mothers Against Drunk Driving” noted the high number of vehicle accidents related to people younger than 21 drinking too much alcohol and then driving. The government supported the mothers by telling states they need to raise the legal drinking age or suffer a 10% cut in the amount of money they receive for highways, which would include addressing the wreckage of vehicle accidents caused by drunk driving. Furthermore, “National Minimum Drinking Age Act (NMDAA) has saved some 17,000 lives on the highways since 1988” (Daniloff, 2010).

In taking a look at those who support the legal drinking age at 21 and those who denounce it, the opposition should consider that a tremendous amount of progress has been made in determining the risk factors associated with alcohol. While a considerable number of car accidents took place prior to the new legislation that made it illegal to drink when under 21, there is now much more awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving (Drinking, 2010). Students are taught in school many times about the various hazards, and they are given extensive stats about the dangers of drinking and driving. This is much different from the amount of information that was given in previous years about the frequency of deaths and injuries. That extra information that is being shared with students has gone a long way to ensuring there are not as many vehicle accidents from drunk driving. Teenagers who are 18 are much more informed than the people who were 18 in generations before them, and this means they are more responsible when it comes to drinking. Furthermore, if a high number of vehicle accidents is to be used as an excuse about why people under 21 should not be allowed to drink, then those who support that claim may not be considering the increased efficiency of transit. The bus and rail systems are much more comprehensive than in previous years, and this makes it exceedingly easier for people to get to where they are going without having to take the risk of drinking and driving (Shields, 2013).

If a person who is 18 years old is allowed to go to war in the U.S., they should also be allowed to drink. What it boils down to is the level of responsibility that is demanded of someone who is wielding an automatic rifle, for example. If someone can be given a gun and told to shoot the enemy, that is a major responsibility. Anyone who is tasked with that responsibility is being trusted with the most cherished components of humanity, human life (Karg, n.d.). This is similar to the type of responsibility with drinking alcohol, however, the likelihood of someone dying after drinking is probably far less likely than someone dying after going to war. To have such a double-standard shows where the priorities of the American government are. The government is willing to send people who are 18 to war where they may die, but they do not want to spend money on cleaning up the streets if someone gets into a drinking and driving accident. America is very pro-war, at least it has been in the majority of Republican presidencies. However, when the amount of capital it has is threatened by the fact that there may be car accidents due to drinking and driving, a policy is created to stop the outflow of cash.

Some might say that comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges. The government cares a great deal about the citizens of its country, and it will do whatever it can to make sure that the citizens are protected. If that means recruiting people who are 18 to fight in the war, then it is a risk worth taking. Taking away the privileges of 18 year olds to drink alcohol in the U.S. is also an act of great intention (Engs, 1998). The mission in this case is to ensure that the teenagers are not killing themselves, or each other. When the government makes decisions about its policies, it is not necessarily measured on whether the person who they affect is a certain age or maturity, it is a matter of what the greatest good for the most amount of people is. By having people who are 18 fight in wars, the government is able to create a stronger army, because it has more people to fight for it. When it comes to making the policies about the legal drinking age, the government is making its decisions based on what will be of the most benefit to the people who are prone to getting in drinking and driving accidents, because they are too young to be responsible when they are drinking (Shields, 2013).

When examining who is right and who is wrong about the government’s intention when it creates laws that are designed to protect the people of its nation, it is important to take into consideration the value of life that these differences in war policy and domestic drinking policy indicate. The aforementioned argument claims that the government is most interested in protecting the safety of the American public. However, that argument is flawed due to the fact that the people who are sent to war in America, are not sent to protect the interests of the American people. Take a look at the war in Iraq, for example, which the public does not know for certain why it was started (Hanson, 2013). According to many intelligent people who have analyzed that war, Iraq was not invaded to find nuclear weapons and to repossess or deactivate them, as George W. Bush had said when America first invaded Iraq. Instead, that war was started for another reason, and the vast majority of possible reasons was not to protect the American people – which would be the reason why 18 year olds would be needed to increase the strength of the American military. It is not within the scope of this essay to analyze why America actually invaded Iraq, but it was likely due to the rich oil deposits that Iraq possesses, or there could have been many other reasons, none of which were to protect the American people. So the argument that the American government designs its policies with the protection of the American people always in mind is flawed. This means that the 18 year olds who are sent to war are often not being protected, but are being used as pawns and killed to further the American economy (Drinking, 2010). Similarly, the 18 year olds cannot drink because the government believes they will creates too many expenses through enforcement or through vehicle accidents. This shows that many of the decisions that the U.S. government has made, and continues to make, are largely driven by economic influences, and perhaps from the motivation of a few focus groups, though much of that appears to be changing with the President Obama administration.

Now could be the perfect time to investigate whether it is appropriate to increase the legal drinking age. However, the issue is not exactly at the top of list of priorities for the American government right now, what with the challenges of rolling out Obamacare. However, gathering information about the number of vehicle accidents that occurred prior to raising the legal drinking age in the 1980s, and analyzing what the decrease has been since that policy change, could help provide the type of information needed to show the government that lowering the legal drinking age will not likely have a negative effect on the number of people who are under 21 getting into alcohol-related accidents. Furthermore, a comprehensive study about the initiatives that were being carried out prior to the change in law in the 1980s, in relation to the need to not drink and drive, should be investigated and compared to the amount of information that people in this age group are learning now. Evolution in the American education system has created a significant amount of valuable warnings about various hazards, such as unprotected sex, smoking, and drinking and driving. Now is the time to take a close look at whether these efforts to protect kids are significant enough to allow people throughout America to start drinking when they are 18. Following the lead of what many other countries are doing in the world is something America is not used to, but it could work to the nation’s advantage in making an educated reformation to the current laws about the legal drinking age.

Drinking: 18 vs. 21.” (2010). Boston University.

Engs, R. (1998). Why the drinking age should be lowered: An opinion based upon research.
Indiana University.

Karg, J. (n.d.). Underage drinking. Colorado State University. 

Minimum legal drinking ages around the world.” (2013) Suny Potsdam.

Shields, W. (2013). Lowering drinking age can help promote safer habits. Arizona Daily 

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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