US Legal Drinking Age Saves Hundreds of Lives Each Year - new study

US Legal Drinking Age Saves Hundreds of Lives Each Year - new study

The legal drinking age in the United States saves hundreds of lives every year, according to research published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. It notes that attitudes towards alcohol and driving has changed significantly over the past 20 years although there is a lot more to do.

The study also addressed teen drinking and driving rates, which have dropped by 54 percent in the past two decades. The biggest decline in teen drinking and driving rates was between 1982 and 1995 when federal laws began pressuring states to increase their legal drinking age to 21.

In 2012, approximately every 51 minutes, someone was killed in a drunk-driving related accident, with a total of 10,322 deaths, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a campaign that aims to stop drunk driving. For the same year, approximately every 90 seconds, someone was injured in a drunk-driving related accident, with a total of 345,000 injuries.

“MADD has always cared about the health and well-being of our youth in particular,” said Mary Alice Serafini, director of the Pat Walker Health Center. “Drinking and driving is an extremely high risk to any age group and is life threatening. One death lost to drinking and driving is one too many deaths.”  

Along with increased safety on the road, the legal drinking age has health benefits as well. Research reveals that consumption of alcohol during adolescence can interfere with brain development, Serafini said. The human brain develops during the early 20s, and drinking alcohol during that development can cause short-or long-term damage to brain growth, according to the MADD website.

While the legal drinking age has health and safety benefits, there are some drawback to having a higher legal drinking age in the U.S. than in other countries.  

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The YOURS Youth and Road Safety Action Kit illustrates the effects of aclohol on the body.

“Because the drinking age is 21, some people vilify alcohol altogether, growing up learning that alcohol is intrinsically bad and cannot be good for people,” said senior Joey Castrodale. “On the other end of the spectrum, people under the age who like to rebel against society drink uncontrollably just to break the rules, which is also damaging to themselves and society as a whole.” Despite the drawbacks, Castrodale said he would not change the legal drinking age.

“I believe the drinking age is fine where it is,” Castrodale said. “Because of the precedence that has already been set, I do not believe changing it either way will be good for America. We are too far in to make any change without serious ramifications. If we could go back and re-found the country and never enstate the drinking age, I would say to not have one, but now we're this far in, so it would lead to chaos were it to change.”

Q: How does alcohol affect driving?

A: Even a small quantity of alcohol can have the following effects:

  • Poor coordination: trouble doing more than one thing at a time, difficulty steering the car.
  • Longer reaction time: reacting more slowly when something unexpected happens (a car approaching you from the side, people crossing the street).
  • Poor judgment: trouble judging your and other people’s behaviour (including speed, distances, movement) and estimating risks.
  • Reduction in concentration, memory, vision and hearing:
    focusing only on the road ahead, losing track of what is taking place in your peripheral vision area, missing out on things you see and hear.
  • False sense of confidence and overestimation of abilities: feeling more confident and taking risks that you would not usually take.

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Alcohol Factsheet


Adapted from the original article here
More about alcohol in the Youth and Road Safety Action Kit
Mothers Against Drunk Driving - MADD