Drinking Age Debate

Legal Age 21 after 23 Years: Has it Worked? Is it Working?

Drinking Age Debate Poster
Thursday, March 6, 2008
7:00 p.m. – Holland Union Building, Social Hall

John McCardell, Founder and Director, Choose Responsibility
Chuck Hurley ’67, Chief Executive Officer, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
Douglas Edlin, professor of political science, moderator

Link to NBC Nightly News Coverage of this program
Results from ballots passed out at the Drinking Age Debate Program:
57 People Voted for Lowering the Drinking Age to 18
28 People Voted for Keeping the Drinking Age at 21
(140 audience members – 85 ballots received)

The National Minimum Legal Drinking Age Act (NMLDA)has now been on the books for almost 24 years. During that time, we have had the opportunity to observe, measure, and experience its effects. Like most laws, the NMLDA has intended and unintended consequences. The purpose of this program is to explore those consequences in as serious, informed, dispassionate, and comprehensive a way possible, and to consider whether any change in the law, or any reorientation of public policy is warranted. This debate involves statistics, probabilities, charts, formulae, and tables. It also involves human lives. Every life lost to alcohol, in whatever setting, is lamentable, tragic. The goal of public policy is to create a safe environment. This debate will examine how effective the law has been in meeting these public policy criteria, and what Dickinson should be doing to address binge and underage drinking.
Sponsored by James ’78 and Niecy Chambers.

“Continuing the Conversation”

Following the program, a discussion will be held in HUB Side Rooms 202-203. Refreshments including “Mocktails” will be served.

Comments from “Weigh In on the Drinking Age”

Issue in Context
Twenty-three years ago, the U.S. Congress passed the National Minimum Legal Drinking Age Act (NMLDA) marking the United States’ status as a country with one of the highest minimum drinking ages in the world. The NMLDA required all U.S. states to raise their minimum purchase and public possession of alcohol age to twenty-one. Even though this law did not specifically legislate a minimum age for consumption per se, several states decided to extend the law to prohibit the use and consumption of alcohol by the age of 21. Today, several states allow underage drinking under specific circumstances, including the supervision of parents or during religious services.
Has the Minimum Legal Drinking Age law been effective? Some studies show that not only has the law not been effective but it has even been counter-productive. The State University System of Florida carried out a study on underage alcohol consumption and found that while the consumption of alcohol had decreased following the passage of the NMLDA, alcohol-related problems, such as binge drinking and alcoholism had increased significantly. On the other side of this issue, the National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA) has reported that fatal crashes involving underage drivers have decreased over the years.
John McCardell, founder and president of Choose Responsibility, and opponents of the NMLDA law have stated that the 21-year-old drinking age is bad social policy not only because of its ineffectiveness but also because it has encouraged college students to conceal their alcohol consumption and engage in dangerous activities such as binge drinking, which causes at least 1,400 deaths per year. Chuck Hurley ’67, chief executive officer of MADD, has said, “Everything in science indicates that the drinking age didn’t cause binge drinking and will make it worse if it’s lowered.” Advocates of this law emphasize that the minimum drinking age saves lives each year by deterring underage alcohol consumption. “This is a choice a free society gets to make,” said Hurley in light of a 2007 Gallup Poll which showed that 77% of Americans are opposed to lowering the drinking age.
The original intention of the NMLDA was to reduce underage alcohol consumption and the legal and medical problems associated with it. The legislators’ reasoning twenty-three year ago was based on the belief that young people lacked the maturity and the ability to deal with alcohol safely and healthily. Where this limit should be set and its potential effectiveness as a prevention measure has been debated for some time.

About the Speakers
John McCardell, founder and president of Choose Responsibility, did his graduate work at Johns Hopkins University and received his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1976. Mr. McCardell was named president of Middlebury College in 1992. Previous to his appointment he also held several administrative and professorial positions at the college since 1976. In December 2006, John McCardell founded Choose Responsibility, a non-profit organization which stimulates public discussion about the presence of alcohol in American culture and encourages consideration of policies to empower young adults ages 18 to 20 to make mature decisions about alcohol.

Chuck Hurley ’67, chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) served as the vice president of the Transportation Safety Group for the National Safety Council and as the executive director of the Council’s Air Bag and Seat Belt Safety Campaign. Mr. Hurley was recognized for his lifetime contribution to transportation safety with the prestigious J. Stannard Baker Award for Highway Safety from the International Association of Chiefs of Police. In 1984, he strongly supported and assisted in MADD’s efforts to pass the National Minimum Legal Drinking Age (NMLDA) Act. In March 2005, Mr. Hurley joined MADD as its C.E.O., with more than 30 years of experience in highway safety. Chuck Hurley graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. From 1968 to 1970, he served in the United States Navy as an intelligence officer in Taipei, Taiwan.

Professor Douglas Edlin, a member of the Department of Political Science at Dickinson College, will be moderating the debate.

Related Links

www.chooseresponsibility.org/ Choose Responsibility
www.madd.org/ Mothers Against Drunk Driving
http://www.icap.org/ International Center for Alcohol Policies

“What Your College President Didn’t Tell You” By John McCardell, Jr.