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as opposed to the temporary effects of change, Birkley, Ganser and Quirke analyzed fatal crash rates in twenty-two states in which the legal drinking age for beer remained 18 (10 states) or 21 (12 states) during the five-year period 1970-75, and found that fatal crash rates for 18 through 20 year-old drivers were 8% higher where the drinking age was 21 than where it remained 18 throughout
33 the time period.
Further analyses of these data, however, revealed that this difference was not statistically significant and confirmed the null hypothesis; that is, there was no difference in 18 through 20 year-old drivers' crash rates attributable to the differences in the states' legal drinking ages.
These findings were consistent with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 1974 study of the 50 states which also found no significant difference in highway crash involvement at any age - attributable to differences in the states' legal drinking
In short, higher legal drinking ages do not effect any long-term difference in highway crash rates among those affected.
In most states it is illegal for an adult to sell or provide alcohol to a minor. But survey results indicate that every year, there are more than 350 million underage drinking occurrences in the
31 Nation. Behind every one of those occurrences there is an adult who unknowingly, carelessly, or deliberately provided the alcohol, yet there are few arrests and fewer convictions of underage drinkers
29 or their adult accomplices.
Citizens don't report violations, witnesses refuse to testify, police don't arrest, prosecutors don't prosecute, juries don't convict and judges defer sentence on all but a handful of the millions of the nations violators annually. The existing law doesn't work because it isn't enforced; and, it isn't enforced because the general public is unwilling to risk the social consequences of exercising their
duty to report and testify against underage drinkers "who don't get drunk or cause trouble" or the adults who provide them with alcoholic beverages, even when it results in death, injury or other
30 negative consequences.
Given the failure of the general public to participate in, cooperate with or demand effective enforcement of the existing drinking age laws, there is little likelihood that raising the age one, two or even three years will enhance the likelihood of enforcement. Indeed, responses to public opinion polls indicate that the higher the legal drinking age is, the less willing the general public is to assist in its enforcement.
The futility of attempting to control the use of alcohol among young people by law alone is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that, although the overwhelming majority of the citizens oppose the use of marijuana; despite the fact that it is illegal everywhere and that there is not one single legitimate outlet for smoking marijuana without prescription anywhere in the United States, it is available throughout the land, it is the most frequently used drug next to alcohol and tobacco, and the drug most frequently
31 used on a daily basis by the nation's high school seniors. Certainly, if laws cannot successfully control our children's access to and use of marijuana, there is no likelihood at all that laws can effectively control their access to and use of alcohol, which is available in more than 750,000 licensed establishments, eighty percent of the nation's households and virtually every picnic, party, graduation, church social, fundraiser, social and sporting event at which more than two adults are present.
Those who advocate raising the legal drinking age tell us that, while it is not the solution to the adolescent drinking problems and while it may not do much good, it certainly can't to any harm and is at least a step in the right direction. They are wrong on
Not one, two or two dozen, but more than two hundred experts
in the field have found evidence that raising the age is not even a partial solution to the problem; it is likely to do more harm than good; and, it is a step in exactly the wrong direction.
Because it is futile at best and fatal at worst, I ask you to reject this proposal and to focus instead on mechanisms for changing the social attitudes which common sense and scholarly research have clearly identified as the single, most influential factor in controlling the behaviors of our children.
(1) Minnesota and Massachusetts both experienced significant increases
following the raised drinking age.
(2) National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1974; Johnston,
etal, 1979; Blane, 1977.
(4) Bruun, 1963; Blackford, 1977; Davies, 1972; Gallup, G. 1977;
Johnston, 1979; Kandel, 1980; Mandell, 1962; Marden, 1977; Mulford,
(5) Johnston, 1979; Brehm 1975; Rachal, 1980; Wisconsin School News.
(6) Abelson, 1977; Birkley, 1978; Blackford, 1977; Blane, 1977; Mandell, 1962.
(7) Rachal, 1980, p. 137.
(8) NIAAA, 1974; Blane, 1977; Rachal, 1980.
(9) Wagenaar, 1981 (Nov.)
(10) Birkley, 1978, p. 5. See also: Characteristics of the Population,
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1971.
(11) Although in some states analyses of highway crashes and alcohol-related
crimes and disturbances found per capita increases among those affected by the lower drinking age, in most there was either a statistically declining or stable rate per capita. See: Douglass, 1977, Cuchiaro, 1974, Naor, 1975, Birkley and Quirke, 1979.
(12) NLAAA, 1874; Gallup, 1972; Brehm, 1975; Harris, 1975; Rachal, 1980.
(13) NLAAA, 1974; Bruun, 1975; Bonnie, 1980; Globetti, 1964; Matlins,
1975; Popham, 1973; Birkley, 1979.
(14) Maisto, 1980.
(15) Non-change states by drinking ages and () rank in apparent consumption
among adults and adolescents fifteen and older are:
Age 21: Oregon (24), Nevada (1), California (7), Washington (21),
New Mexico (22), North Dakota (23).
New York (20), South Carolina (29), Louisiana (33).
(19) Wiscons in School News, 1979; NIAAA, 1974: Massachusetts, 1978; Bacon,
1979; Bruun, 1963; Blackford, 1977; Bruun, 1975; Maisto, 1980;
(20) Globetti, 1964; Straus and Bacon, Drinking In College, New Haven:
Yale University, 1964.
(21) Zylman, 1974; Naor, 1974; Chafetz, 1979.
(22) Douglass, 1979-80; Massachusetts, 1980; Wagenaar, 1981 (Nov.); Williams
1981; See Minnesota data, attached.
In Wisconsin, convictions of adult providers numbered less than 20 per year prior to 1980. Juvenile arrests for violations totaled less than 1,500 annually.
(30) Birkley, M.M., 1978, pp. 40, 41, 84, 85.
(31) Johnston, et al, 1979.
Birkley, MM "Death and the Legal Drinking Age: A Tri-State Study",
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; The Legal Drinking Age -