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Mr. FLORIO. We appreciate that. We appreciate your very succinct and pointed testimony.
If you had to characterize the nature of the opposition in the States that you have been dealing with over the last period of time, the opposition to increasing the drinking age, would you primarily categorize it on economic grounds, philosophic grounds?
We are talking about young people making the case that in fact—the traditional argument—if they are old enough to vote, they should be old enough to drink. What would be the major fact or factor, if you are capable of identifying it, that has resulted in the nonlifting of the drinking age in the States?
Mr. BURNETT. Well, the major factor has been the influence of economic interests that are making a great deal of money from selling liquor, all forms of alcoholic beverages to young people, and primarily those forces organized by tavern owners that cater to young people. I have seen this in every legislature in which we have lost that battle.
In order to have the impact they have on State legislatures, they organize young people to come before the legislatures. We know from the Gallup poll that the majority even of young people, the affected age group, favor raising the drinking age, so those are a minority they use, but a very intense minority. Particularly, they organize college towns.
They also use the appeal, if you are old enough to fight, you are old enough to drink. And a lot of people are influenced by that, be cause they remember at the time when they were 18 years old, if there was a war, that they would very much have resented not being able to buy a beer, or not have access to liquor, or did resent it when they were not able to. There is a reluctance from a sort of a philosophical consistency approach that if you can vote at 18, why not provide all rights, which is a very powerful appeal.
The only answer to those is the very pragmatic argument that if we raise the drinking age to 21, we know we can save lives, and 1,250 lives a year is an impermissible price to pay for the license of 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds to drink, even though if it were not for that price we would all favor their being able to do so.
Mr. FLORIO. Mr. Tauzin.
Now, Mr. Burnett, a couple of statements you made I would like to discuss with you. First of all, passing the law itself is not selffulfilling. I agree with you that some program for enforcement always enhances the effect of the laws, but does not a law that sets a standard for society encourage those who might deviate from it, at least not to deviate from it outrageously?
Let me give you an example. We passed 55 as the speed limit. People still deviate from 55, but those who deviate from it stay within some range of deviation. They do not want to go too much faster than the flow of traffic, if you will, than the rest of society. So that the speeders in effect have lowered the speed limits at which they violate the speed laws, simply by operation of the fact that there is a speed law that most people go out and obey, even
here is lax enforcement of the speed law.
Is that not true? Is not the operation of the law itself, does it not operate as a social pressure, that if you are going to deviate, you try not to be too outrageously deviant?
Mr. BURNETT. I think that is certainly true, and one of the things that we notice in the area of drunk driving is, when you suspend someone's license, they still drive. They just drive more carefully, and I think that that is an important point. Basically, when the State legislatures raise the drinking age, all of them have some sort of enforcement program to enforce it at 18, so basically you are substituting enforcement at 18 for enforcement at 21. So that does not require, in my view, new resources.
The Federal Government, on the other hand, has no enforcement program in this regard, and I think to make this legislation before the committee more than a paper tiger will take some substantial commitment of resources where the Federal Government now has none.
Mr. TAUZIN. Is that part of why you favor allowing the States to at least have the chance to continue to raise the drinking age before we move on the Federal level?
Mr. BURNETT. Raising the drinking age is a way that has been proven to save lives, and it is a cheap way to do it. If we take a lot of Federal money to do this,and I am not saying I would not be in favor of that if is it necessary-we would also have to look at whether or not that money could be better spent reducing drunk driving in some other way. We have not examined that.
Mr. TAUZIN. Let me examine what may be a contradiction in your logic. You argue that Mr. Porter's concept of withholding Federal funds would deprive the issue of some of its moral momentum and its validity, and that you favor at this time the process of continuing to encourage the States to go ahead and adopt higher drinking age limits, and then, if that fails, then to come with some Federal initiative.
In other words, you would rather not provide the Federal penalty at this point of withholding Federal funds to encourage the States to do what you want them to do anyhow. Is that not a bit contradictory with the logic that says that while all of us try to encourage young people and adults who are above the age of 18 and 21, for that matter, to avoid abuse of drugs, that nevertheless what you want is the States to come in and absolutely prohibit it?
In other words, you want the States to create a penalty to prohibit what we are all trying to discourage, and yet you argue that the Federal Government ought not to create a penalty on the States for not doing what we also would want them to do and encourage them to do. Is there not some contradiction in that logic?
Mr. BURNETT. Well, I am not saying that I would not favor that if it has to be done. It is just that I think it is a matter of electing strategies. I think the sole problem of dealing with drunk driving is one that is going to be-I think is-a national problem, as the chairman has pointed out. I do not really believe, however, that there is going to be a national solution. I believe this is an area that is going to have to be solved in the communities of our country, and I think it is up to us to try to find some tools to give to those people who-
Mr. TAUZIN. Is it not a good tool, the suggestion that if you want more money from the Federal Government to do some of the capital improvements that are so politically popular in a State, that the national policy is to encourage you to go ahead and adopt a higher drinking age?
Mr. BURNETT. My experience has been that I found that approach to be an embarrassment. Now, it may be that there is not enough money committed to the incentive programs, or you can meet those incentive programs with other steps, but I think if red blood is not an incentive to do something about this problem and green money is, we are in bad trouble in this country.
Mr. Tauzis. That is certainly a valid point, but red blood did not convince the State legislatures to adopt 55, either, until the Federal Government came in-not all of them, at least-came in and said, look, not only red blood but dollars, too, if you will, the additional incentive of providing Federal help to the highway systems was an incentive to encourage the States not only to adopt 55, but to enforce it because, as you well pointed out earlier, that is an essential ingredient to having the law work well.
Mr. BURNETT. That points up some of the concern that I have. I think this is particularly true in the South and the West—there is a resentment of federally imposed standards of that type, and therefore it tends to be discounted at the enforcement level and in the courts.
We can argue that that should not be, but nevertheless I think it is true.
Mr. TAUZIN. That is a good point.
Mr. BURNETT. I think basically we have the facts. It is proven that when a State legislature in every State that has been studied raised the drinking age, lives have been saved. We do not know what will happen if the Congress fails to do so.
Now, it has been suggested that the Congress taking that action does not keep the States from doing so. I am not sure what effect the legislation before the committee will have on State action. I very much fear that some States will decide that it is a moot point. The citizens' groups that are active there will tend to back offCongress has already solved the problem-when it will not in fact have been solved. Others may take action to raise to 21 on paper, but with their enforcement authorities believing this is just some thing that happened because the Congress wanted it.
Others, I am sure, will go ahead and make it consistent and enforce it vigorously.
The greatest potential penalty for the retailer of alcoholic beverages is the loss of license, so I certainly do not think the penalties are too low. If we are going to do it, I would think the penalties need to be somewhat greater than are provided in the bill, because you can make an awful lot of money selling alcoholic beverages to young people in this country, and a mere prescribed fine may not be enough to persuade some people not to do it.
Mr. TAUZIN. One of the things that came up in our discussions on this issue may have been addressed in some of the State legislatures where you have been active, and maybe you can give us some insight on it. What has been the reaction of tavern owners to the suggestion of even stiffer penalties in lieu of a higher drinking age? For example, some form of strict liability for a young person who injures someone or injures himself as a result of getting drunk in a tavern?
Mr. BURNETT. Well, we have not discussed that issue extensively. Usually you have a full plate just talking about raising the drinking age to 21 and trying to convince State legislatures to do that without discussing other remedies. Certainly I think that is something that we need to examine in this country. Many States have dram shop laws and others do not. When I was taking a course in law school, the conclusion was that dram shop laws were not very effective, and I have not looked at that myself to know.
But I think certainly if people are going to insist that they have a right to make money selling alcohol to young people, at the cost of the number of lives that were sacrificed in this country, they ought to assume some responsibility.
Mr. Tauzin. That is something to look at.
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the time. One additional point I would like to raise, that is, why 21? Twenty-one, of course, was the voting age. It was the voting age for Federal law and for State law, and because it was the voting age, it kind of sticks in our mind in memory as some sort of a demarcation line, but is it a demarcation line in fact? And why do we go back to perhaps what may be an archaic demarcation line?
Mr. BURNETT. I have had to answer that question many times. To begin with, one of the first letters I got after the Safety Board made its recommendation was, why not raise it to 70? We tried that in this country, and it did not work very well. If you create a sufficient population of people who are banned from purchasing alcoholic beverages legally, then you will establish a black market, which is what happened during prohibition, which would be an entirely unregulated industry, and therefore will be worse than what you had before.
I think that is the reason prohibition did not work, although philosophically I would be in favor of it if it could solve the price we are paying for alcohol abuse in this country.
Mr. TAUZIN. But that has not answered the young person's concern. That is not fair to him. Why not pick an age group between 24 and 29 and say, you are prohibited instead?
Mr. BURNETT. We do not know, beyond 21, to what extent we could raise it and still not develop the black market. We know that raising to 21 works. If some State wants to try 25, I would be interested to see the results. If it works, I would be in favor of 25. We do not have the evidence, because no one has tried at this point, but we can with confidence recommend 21 because we know it works.
Mr. Tauzin. What concerns me in that argument is that you are arguing against maybe some other age group, but you have not yet told me in a positive sense what is special about 21 in terms of-do your statistics indicate that that is where you could do the most good, or do they not?
Mr. BURNETT. For one thing, it is doable. Also, there is some statistical support for age 21. We know that the overrepresentation of the younger age group among the alcohol fatalities extends on up to about 25, but it begins to turn downward at 21 or so. So there is some support for that.
There would also be support for using 25 as the age, but we do not know whether that works or not, and it could backfire.
Mr. TAUZIN. It may not be politically doable. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. FLORIO. Let me ask one last question. Perhaps it bears repeating, because I am not sure if Mr. Tauzin was here earlier. It has been established that one can comply with the programmatic requirements that currently exist in order to qualify for the additional financial assistance to the States that is supposed to be pursuant to a drunk driving program, and though one of the variables is increasing the driving age to 21, one can put together a program that does not increase 21 and still take part in the program. I think that is worth emphasizing.
One of the other sanctions that we have in the bill that is currently before us is citizens' right to sue. You spoke and others have spoken about the concern about enforcement, Federal expenditures. It is not the intention at least of the sponsors to see a whole lot of Federal expenditures in that area, having the State to a larger extent be relied upon to call to the attention of the appropriate Federal officials for purposes of entering actions, civil actions up to penalties of $5,000.
But the citizen's right to sue civilly for injunctive relief we also see as a means of enforcing the Federal requirements, and certainly with the growth of the sense of awareness of organizations around the country we can expect that, we think, to be a relatively inexpensive enforcement mechanism. Can I get your comments on that?
Mr. BURNETT. Well, I see nothing wrong with it. I do not have a lot of hope for that being effective, because I think proving the case of serving to young people is very difficult. It is difficult for those States that want to enforce it. When I was a judge in Arkansas my jurisdiction was dry. We had an adjoining county that was wet, and that is where most of our young people, I was a juvenile judge as well as a traffic judge-bought alcoholic beverages. There was a person who made it his business to stand outside the liquor store and make purchases.
Now, what his business connection was with the liquor store would be something that would be very difficult to prove.
Mr. FLORIO. The difficulty though, in taking that to its logical conclusion, is then you put into question the viability of 18-year-old laws or any other age limit.
Mr. BURNETT. But if you prove that twice a year and each retailer paid a $10,000 penalty, many of them would be glad to do it for the business they received.
Mr. FLORIO. But, if you prove it once under a civil injunctive relief, then you are talking about contempt of court and you are talking about someone having to think seriously as to whether one wants to go try to calculate whether it is going to be a legitimate cost of doing business to the injunctive terms potentially providing for forfeiture of license.
Mr. BURNETT. It is a slow remedy. One of the issues I hope the Safety Board will advocate in the future is administrative per se for the drunken driver-suspending his license on the scene when he fails the test—I would rather see it move toward the adminis