August 22, 2008

DAVID HARSANYI: Let’s Chuck the Drinking Age:

What happens when presidents from more than 100 of the nation’s best-known colleges call on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18? Well, a brigade of hyperbolic mommies start screaming at them, that’s what.

In the Amethyst Initiative, college presidents have offered a rational, if counterintuitive, plan. Let’s stop treating young adults like wards of the state. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (naturally) replied: No debate allowed.

There is plenty of empirical evidence suggesting that the drinking age of 21 is counterproductive.

Yes. Read the whole thing. MADD has long since morphed from an anti-drunk-driving organization — a cause I supported — to an anti-alcohol organization, a modern Temperance Movement. And we know how that worked out last time.

UPDATE: Reader Richard Fagin emails:

Thanks for the link to David Harsanyi’s article on chucking the drinking age. Interestingly, as you noted MADD has become more of a modern day temperance movement than an organization trying to stamp out drunk driving. Along those lines, MADD has been agitating for many years to get the presumptive limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) lowered more than it has already. States that want federal highway money are now required to have a BAC limit of 0.08% BAC. This limit was mandated some 20 years ago, after a round in the 1970s of the presumptive limit being lowered to 0.1% from 0.15% BAC. As you would learn in any driving safety course, the risk of being in a traffic accident rises as the driver’s BAC increases. What is not emphasized is that the risk increase is hyperbolic: there is a distinct “knee” in the risk curve at about 0.12% BAC. Lowering the presumptive limit to 0.1% did almost all of the good. Further decreases will only criminalize marginally risky conduct. That, I think, is what MADD really has in mind. It’s not just get the drunks out from behind the wheel, it’s get alcohol out of the car altogether (and every place else, for that matter). As evidence of the latter, I can offer the crusade to have Texas enact open container laws. Until fairly recently, it was perfectly legal to drink (as in consuming alcohol) and drive in Texas, and to have open containers of alcohol in the passenger compartment. It was of course illegal to drive while intoxicated, but that wasn’t enough for the prohibitionists. Why penalize responsible passengers unless you’re on a crusade?

MADD has become a disgrace.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Debating the drinking age.

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