Legal Drinking Age Of 21 Saves Lives, Even Though It’s Flouted

alcohol teenagersNPR Health News 24 February 2014 |
Eighty percent of college students say they drink, despite laws making it illegal for anyone under 21 to drink alcohol. Critics of that drinking age say that lowering it would reduce binge drinking and alcohol-related deaths.

But that might be wishful thinking, a study says. Researchers from Boston University reviewed scientific literature published since 2006 and concluded keeping the legal drinking age at 21 reduces rates of drunk driving and crashes, and reduces rates of underage drinking.

The paper, published Monday in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, even goes so far as to say “case closed” — the minimum drinking age saves lives.

“If we choose to decrease the legal drinking age, there will be consequences,” says William DeJong, the study’s lead author and a professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health.

People may find it difficult to justify a law that is mostly ignored, DeJong tells Shots, but “The weight of the evidence suggests that even though t the law is widely disobeyed, it does have a protective effect.”

The review also looked at drinking habits in other countries, paying special attention to New Zealand, which lowered its drinking age from 20 to 18 in 1999. Several studies found a spike in alcohol-related car crashes and increased drinking there among still-underage 16- and 17-year -olds.