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In addition, Mr. Birkley ignored two other states – Tennessee and New Hampshire included in the Institute's study. Both of these states showed reductions in fatal crash involvement. His conclusions, based as they were on inadequate data and a selective review of the literature, are not valid.

As part of his written testimony, Mr. Birkley also submitted a document entitled “Death and the Legal Drinking Age: A Tri-State Study" (5), which he wrote and in which he claimed that the reductions in crash involvement in Michigan and Mlinois after the drinking ages were raised were not as great as reductions in Wisconsin, where the drinking age was not raised. However, this document does not follow accepted procedures of scientif. ic research. Birkley analyzed 1976-1981 Wisconsin data and found a 1981 decline in crash involvement among 18-20 year olds, compared to what he said would have been expected based on 1976-1980 trends. He then compared this 1981 reduction in Wisconsin to a 1980 reduction in Illinois (the first year of the law change in that state) and a 1979 reduction in Michigan (the first year of the law change there). That is, the comparisons" were based on different years, which invalidates them. (They also involved different age groups in Ilinois and Wisconsin, and were based on different measures of crash involvement in Wisconsin, compared to the other two states.)

Birkley claimed that “none of the major drinking age impact studies, including those of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ... found any measurable change in highway crash rates among 16- and 17-year-old drivers attributable to lowering or raising the legal drinking age in any jurisdiction." (6) That is incorrect. In fact, the Institute's 1974 study of three areas that lowered the legal minimum drinking age, compared to adjacent areas that did not, indicated "a significant increase in involvement in fatal crashes of drivers under 21 in areas that changed the law .... This occurred not only among the 18-20 year olds to whom the law change applied, but also, though to a somewhat lesser degree, among 15-17 year olds." (1)

Finally, Birkley claimed that a study by Cook and Tauchen on lowering the drinking age supports his own position namely that an 18-year-old legal drinking age is preferred. (6) However, Birkley failed to cite the conclusion of Cook and Tauchen's study: “A reduction in the minimum drinking age from 21 to 18 for all alcoholic beverage types will result in an increase in the auto fatality rate for 18 to 20 year olds of about seven percent, and a somewhat smaller increase for 16 to 17 year olds .... We are confident in concluding that the cumulative effect of minimum legal drinking age reductions during the early 1970s was to cause a substantial increase in 18-20-year-old auto fatality rates, averaging about 150 lives per year during the mid-1970s." (7)

Based on its research, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has concluded that "raising the legal minimum drinking age to 21 in all states would go far toward reducing the annual toll of motor vehicle deaths in the United States, particularly the deaths of young people and of others with whom they are involved in crashes." That conclusion stands.



Williams, Allan F.; Rich, Robert F.; Zador, Paul L. and Robertson, Leon S. "The Legal Minimum Drink. ing Age and Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes," The Journal of Legal Studies, 4:1(1975), pp. 219-239.


A review of relevant research is contained in Smart, Reginald G. and Goodstadt, Michael S. "Effects of Reducing the Legal Alcohol-Purchasing Age on Drinking and Drinking Problems," Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 38:7(1977), pp. 1313


Williams, Allan F.; Zador, Paul L.; Harris, Sandra S. and Karpf, Ronald S. "The Effect of Raising the Legal Minimum Drinking Age on Involvement in Fatal Crashes," The Journal of Legal Studies, 12(1983), pp. 169-179.

National Licensed Beverage Association. Oral Statement Before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Transportation, and Tourism, Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives. Hearing on H.R. 3870, October 4, 1983.


Birkley, Michael M. “Death and the Legal Drinking Age: A Tri-State Study," Issue Briefs. Madison, Wisconsin: The Blaney Institute, April 1983.


National Licensed Beverage Association. Written Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Transportation, and Tourism, Committee on Energy and Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives. Hearing on H.R. 3870, October 4, 1983.


Cook, Philip J. and Tauchen, George. "The Effect of Minimum Drinking Age Legislation on Youthful Auto Fatalities, 1970-1977" (draft). Durham, North Carolina: Duke University, Department of Economics, July 1982.





In the early 1970s, more than half of the states in the United States

lowered their legal minimum ages-in most cases from twenty-one to eighteen-for the purchase of some or all alcoholic beverages. Research indicated that this legislation resulted in increased involvement of young drivers in crashes. In a study of various states and Canadian provinces that reduced the drinking age from twenty-one to eighteen, significant increases were shown in fatal crashes-particularly in nighttime and single vehicle crashes in which alcohol is most often involved-involving drivers under twenty-one, compared with adjacent areas that did not reduce their drinking ages. These increases occurred not only among eighteen- to twenty-year-olds, who were directly affected by law changes, but also among fifteen- to seventeen-year-olds.?

As a result of these findings and other reports of growing problems related to teenage drivers and alcohol, many states that had lowered their legal minimum drinking ages in the early 1970s began in 1976 to raise them. By the end of 1980, fourteen of the thirty states that had lowered their drinking ages for the purchase of some or all alcoholic beverages had raised them, although not necessarily back to the original limits. In this paper, a study of the effect of raising the drinking age on fatal crashes involving teenage drivers is reported.

*Dr. Williams is senior behavioral scientist, Dr. Zador is senior statistician, and Ms. Harris and Dr. Karpf are statisticians, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Washington, D.C.

| Allan F. Williams, Robert F. Rich, Paul L. Zador, & Leon S. Robertson, The Legal Minimum Drinking Age and Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes, 4 J. Legal Stud. 219 (1975); Reginald G. Smart & Michael S. Goodstadt, Effects of Reducing the Legal AlcoholPurchasing Age on Drinking and Drinking Related Problems: A Review of Empirical Studies, 38 J. Stud. Alcohol 1313 (1977).

2 Williams et al., supra note 1.

(Journal of Legal Studies, vol. XII (January 1983)] © 1983 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0047-2530/83/1201-0003$01.50





Research Design

Nine states, all of which raised their legal minimum drinking ages between September 1, 1976 and January 1, 1980, were studied. Four states that raised their drinking ages during 1980 were excluded, because the law changes were too recent for their effects to be measured using data available when the study was conducted. New Jersey, which raised its drinking age from eighteen to nineteen on January 2, 1980 but included a "grandfather” clause permitting those already eighteen before that date to drink, was also excluded.

Each of the nine states was paired with a comparison state in which the legal minimum drinking age remained unchanged during the study period. Comparison states were chosen on the basis of geographic proximity to law-change states and comparability with law-change states with respect to numbers of crash fatalities. Table i shows the law-change and comparison state pairs and drinking age in each state.

Data on driver involvement in fatal crashes from January 1975 through September 1980 were obtained from the Fatal Accident Reporting System


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The laws apply to all alcoholic beverages except where noted. + The age change applied to beer and wine; the legal age for distilled spirits was twenty-one throughout the study period. Prior to the 1980 change, home-rule units in Illinois had the authority to promulgate different laws for drinking ages. Some raised the drinking age from nineteen to twenty-one for beer and wine before the statewide change in 1980, although in some cases, beer and wine purchase by nineteen- to twenty-year-olds was permitted under some conditions.

# A grandfather clause permitted eighteen-year-olds to drink if they were eighteen before the law went into effect.

$ The legal minimum drinking age was eighteen for beer with not over 3.2 percent alcohol content and twenty-one for other alcoholic beverages.

| The following counties in central and northern New York were included: Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Montgomery, Oneida, Oswego, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Warren, and Washington.



(FARS). Only drivers of motor vehicles-automobiles, light trucks, vans, on-off road vehicles—were included.

Alcohol is a major factor in fatal motor vehicle crashes in general, but is particularly likely to be involved in nighttime fatal crashes (9:00 P.M.-5:59 A.M.), especially single vehicle nighttime fatal crashes. This subset of crashes therefore received special attention during the study.

The duration of postlaw periods studied ranged from nine months (Illinois) to three years (Minnesota). In two states that raised their drinking ages from eighteen to nineteen but had a grandfather clause that permitted those already eighteen years old to drink, the twelve-month period following the law change dates was excluded. Prelaw and postlaw periods for the nine states are shown in Figure 1. The ages to which the law changes apply are also given for each state in Figure 1.

Fatal crash involvement of drivers younger than those covered by the laws (starting with age fifteen) was also studied because of the possibility of spillover effects in these ages when alcoholic beverages could no longer be obtained legally by older teenagers. As a control, drivers older than those to whom the law changes applied (through age twenty-one), who could drink legally in law-change states throughout the study period, were also included.

When a state changes its drinking age, there are possible effects on fatal crash involvement in adjacent states, both in the age groups to which the law changes apply and among their younger and older associates. These effects can be positive or negative. For example, if a state raises its drinking age from eighteen to twenty-one, and a neighboring state has a drinking age of eighteen, then eighteen- to twenty-year-olds in the lawchange state may travel to the neighboring state in order to drink legally and may have crashes there. On the other hand, if a neighboring state has a drinking age of twenty-one, eighteen- to twenty-year-olds in that state may no longer travel to the law-change state to drink and consequently may crash less in both states.



FARS is a computerized data base containing information on motor vehicle fatalities in The fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The data are collected by the state governments under contract to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Police accident reports are the primary source of data, supplemented by data from medical examiners and other sources.

Julian A. Waller, E. M. King, George Nielson, & Henry W. Turkel, Alcohol and Other Factors in California Highway Fatalities, in Proceedings of the Eleventh Annual Meeting of the American Association for Automotive Medicine (Charles C. Thomas ed. 1970); Nathan Rosenberg, Ronald H. Laessig, & Robert R. Rawlings, Alcohol, Age and Fatal Traffic Accidents, 35 J. Stud. Alcohol 473 (1974); Ralph K. Jones & Kent B. Joscelyn, Alcohol and Highway Safety 1978: A Review of the State of Knowledge (Nat'l Technical Information Service, for Nat'l Highway Traffic Safety Administration) (1978).

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