Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Wine

After a few months in Europe, I’m relieved by my American comforts: Mexican food, pronounceable cities, and a car. However, I can’t walk into a restaurant with my parents and order a beer with my dinner. I’m halfway through the tumultuous age of 20, and this is my sober rant about: the stupidity of the American drinking age.

So, to begin this epic on incompetence I’ll start with the history of the drinking age. Before and after the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 (which you can read about here under Section 158), the ages to purchase and consume alcohol varied drastically from state to state. Some states applied different ages to liquor and beer, but most of the states put the drinking age between 18-20. Then, with the Drinking Age Act of 1984, the federal government warned states that if they didn’t raise their drinking age to 21, they would lose 10% of their highway funding. By the late 1980s, all 50 states enforced the higher age requirement.

Reagan did this in response to a surge of drunk driving due to the massive generation of Baby Boomers. It did reduce the drunk driving incidents by a whopping 50%. I think we can all agree less death on the road is a good thing. Yet, today we live in an age of Uber and cellphones. For most people, a safe ride home is a few taps away, not twenty minutes flailing in the street for a cab to stop. He justified cutting the state’s budgets by saying that a lower drinking age and drunk driving is connected, but truthfully that isn’t always the case.



In sensible European countries, you can’t have a drop to drink before getting behind the wheel of a car, but they let 18 year olds drink to their heart’s content. In fact, the United States is one of only a handful of nations that enforces a drinking age over the age of 18. In an interview with CNN, Dwight B. Heath claimed, “In general, the younger people start to drink the safer they are.” So, if he really wanted to stop drunk driving, wouldn’t the logical step be to simply make the punishments harsher and the legal limit lower? Underage drinking is an epidemic among teens in high school and college, but the fact that it’s illegal forces it into the dark.

In an article for the New York Times, Gabrielle Glaser, agrees that the drinking age should be lower and stricter. "Raising the drinking age hasn't reduced drinking — it’s merely driven it underground, to the riskiest of settings: unsupervised high school blowouts and fraternity parties that make "Animal House" look quaint," she says. I’d freely give up my right to drive at .08% BAC if the age reflected the legal age of adulthood. The government trusts 18 year olds to vote competently, join the military, smoke cigarettes, have sex, not murder people, and serve on a jury. My father drank legally at my age and can’t fathom that I could go kill for my country, but I can’t have a glass of wine at a snooty steakhouse.

Many people have challenged this (let's be honest – insane) amendment, but so far, no one has succeeded in overcoming Reagan’s ridiculous rule. Although the law is an infringement on the rights of taxpaying young voters, it has been in effect for almost thirty years. I pay taxes, but I’m not represented as a citizen with full rights. This absurdity sounds suspiciously like our founders’ favorite saying, “Taxation without representation.” Restricting a massive segment of the adult population from enjoying a cocktail isn’t solving the issue of drunk driving; it’s simply delaying the crime.

The damage this law created became tragically apparent to me when I first settled into the European scene. By 19-20, when most people learn to drive, they’ve already gone through their first wild and crazy year of legal drinking. Since students have full access to bars and alcohol, they tend to binge drink a lot less. They don’t need to pack a week of alcohol into one night, but they can relax with a few pints after a particularly brutal day. Like an adult. And even if they sip one beer too many, they still can’t get behind the wheel of a car and put everyone at risk. It’s a lot safer for them to experiment with alcohol from the safety of home because by the time they ship off to university, where most people first get access to alcohol, they can legally drink it. Therefore, they aren’t afraid to call for help when somebody drinks too much, they aren’t worried about calling the police if something goes terribly wrong. It may sound ridiculous not to call for medical aid when somebody might be dying, but this fear is noted as a common cause of death from alcohol poisoning. Most importantly they don’t risk driving after a few drinks. This means fewer criminals, less secrecy, and more people willing to ask for help when they need it.

For God’s sake let me drink a glass of wine at dinner.

Feature photo by Yutacar VIA Unsplash