What's Magic About the Number 21?
Are you wondering what the deal is with the 21
minimum drinking age law? Sure, it's a law but it doesn't always feel
like it. It's in all 50 states but do people pay attention to it? You
might question why the laws were written with 21 as the minimum drinking age,
what's so special about that age, and how the law came to be. Here's
a lowdown on the most relevant information.
A Walk Down Memory Lane
Some folks think 21 was pulled out of the air. But
despite what you may think, there are some pretty good reasons that age 21 was
Back in the late 1960's and early 70's a number
of states lowered their drinking age from 21 to 18. In many of these
states, research documented a significant increase in highway deaths of the
teens affected by these laws. So, in the early 1980's a movement
began to raise the drinking age back to 21. After the law changed back to
21, many of the states were monitored to check the difference in highway
fatalities. Researchers found that teenage deaths in fatal car
crashes dropped considerable - in some cases up to 28% - when the laws were
moved back to 21. Like it or not, it is clear that more young people
were killed on the highways when the drinking age was 18.
Back in 1982 when the many of the states had
minimum drinking ages of 18, 55% of all fatal crashes involving youth drivers
involved alcohol. Since then, the alcohol-related traffic fatality rate has been
cut in half! Research estimates that from 1975-1997 more than 17,000
lives have been saved. Hard to argue with that!
A Strain in the Brain
According to the book Buzzed, the use of
alcohol by young people is especially frightening. We all hear about
the dangers and consequences of underage drinking, but most of us know very
little about how alcohol affects on the brains of young people.
we should look at what we do know about young brains like the fact that they
don't finish developing until a person is around twenty years old. And
one of the last regions to mature is intimately involved with the ability to
plan and make complex judgments. Young brains are built to acquire
new memories and are "built to learn." Buzzed
reports that, "It is no accident that people are educated in our society
during their early years, when they have more capacity for memory and learning. However,
with this added memory capacity may come additional risks associated with the
use of alcohol." Apparently on studies using animals, young
brains are vulnerable to dangerous effects of alcohol, especially on learning
and memory function. If this is true of people, then young people who
drink may be "powerfully impairing the brain functions on which they rely
so heavily for learning." So, in case there wasn't enough
pressure to perform at school, at your job, or just in life, alcohol can prevent
your use of your own brain.
So in answer to the question "Why?" the
21 minimum age drinking laws were established to save your brain and your life.