Sunday, March 30, 2008

This Bud's for you, youngsters

I have long been of the opinion that the decision by the federal government to force states to raise their drinking ages to 21 was a mistake. People can get married, vote for our president and get their asses shot off in Iraq at age 18, but they can't legally buy a six-pack of beer. This all grew out of the hysteria whipped up in the 1980s by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, with the complicity of lawmakers who saw this as a can't-lose issue, and while I feel for anyone who has lost someone close to them to a drunken driver, I think we've gone overboard. In the vast majority of other countries, the legal drinking age is 18, even 16 in some places, and they don't seem to have any more problems with alcohol than we do. In fact, in my visits to foreign lands, I've observed that the young people, when allowed to have a beer or a glass of wine with dinner, seem to have a much better grip on dealing with drinking. It isn't made into some sort of taboo, and they learn at home how to drink responsibly. A group called Choose Responsibility, led by former Middlebury College president John M. McCardell Jr., is advocating a return to a legal drinking age of 18. The group contends that setting the drinking age at 21 has "failed utterly at its goal of protecting young people from the dangers of excessive alcohol use." The organization says fewer young people are drinking, but those who do imbibe are binge drinking. Choose Responsibility also debunks the frequent claim of supporters of the 21 drinking age who suggest the change is the primary factor in the decline in alcohol-related traffic deaths. The group points to social disapproval of drunken driving, safer vehicles, air bags in cars, the use of designated drivers and the huge increase in seat-belt use as other significant developments that have cut the death rate. Changing the drinking age to 21 was like what happened to a lot of us in kindergarten when one child misbehaved and the entire class got punished. Instead of coming down hard on those who drink to excess and drive or otherwise misbehave while overindulging in alcohol, we punished all people between the ages of 18 and 20, including millions and millions who would responsibly have a few beers in their homes or a glass of wine with dinner in a restaurant. We do nothing about the threat posed by people jabbering on cell phones while they drive and very little about people driving under the influence of prescription drugs, but God forbid we let a 20-year-old have a beer.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Consider the fact that NO ONE cares about a married man and woman with children that is 19, working in a local factory that is drinking. The law is only enforced on those in college or just out of high school.
This is a piece of bad legislation done for the purpose that Mr. Newman has described, to make a politician look good. Excellent commentary.

March 30, 2008 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger Roger said...

This issue and a change of drinking age is, what I knew as a kid growing up, "... spitt'n in the wind." It is a small plastic bandage on a huge open wound.

The real issue is what to do about the 17,000 people killed each year due to drunken driving, and the 40,000 people injured annually. We get all excited about recalling millions of pounds of food products that could be dangerous, or even a few people got sick. Or, we get excited about OSHA regulations to protect workers that might get hurt. This is not to minimize getting sick from bad food, or getting hurt while working, but, by comparison, the drunken driving impact is waaaaaaaay more significant. But, virtually nothing is done about it. Why is this so?

Whether a person, family, or group ridding in a car is killed by a drunken 19 year old, or a 40 year old, is a moot question. The bigger question is why are those folks out on the road at all. Our society seems to take a blind eye toward those who choose, yes CHOOSE, to drive while impaired. On yes, there is another set of drivers impaired by drugs too, but that is another topic.

The age of drinking is overwhelmed by the desire to be so selfish on the part of some folks to do what they wish, even at the peril of others and themselves. The argument of "it is my body/life, I can do what I want," is stale, and doesn't hold any water. To me, the entire issue is SELFISHNESS, that is "... I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it." It is all about "I."

I would like to see some teeth in laws governing drunken driving. On first offense, take away the vehicle being driven for three months. I will support impound yards for this purpose -- a good use of taxpayer money. On second offense, take away the vehicle for six months. On third offense, take it away for a year.

I won't listen to arguments about "hardship on the family" by taking away the vehicle. The person in question needs to think hard about the hardship imposed on his/her family when they take their own life, or the lives of others by their selfish actions. If the vehicle is taken away, it would impose a consequence for the actions. The laws now merely are slap on the wrist. Consider the number of repeat offenders. Sending somebody to drunk driving school, or whatever it is called, is obviously a joke. That is like sending the perpetrators of domestic violence to anger management classes (e.g. Cedrick Wilson). Consider the Washington City official, now in jail, for his stupid view of drunken driving.

I suspect the lawmakers don't get serious about harsher penalties on drunken driving because the issue hits too close to home. How often are lawmakers caught in this web of enforcement?

Our nation has reached a level of tolerance to the matter. When we hear or read of a new incident (no, won't call it accident because it is the result irresponsible actions on the part of an individual), we are of ho-hum response, "... too bad, another person killed." Apparently the annual rates of 17,000 being killed, 40,000 injured (how much property damage, how much lost work productivity ...?) isn't enough to make changes. A few years ago when the Que Creek mine disaster recovery work was underway, a news person noted that in years past, 500 workers were killed each year in mines. The 500 was a "tolerable" level for dangerous work. But, then somebody took the matter seriously, managed to make changes in regulations, and the death rates were lowered. In other words, 500 deaths was a tolerable level for a long time, it was just taken as a fact, and the industry was willing to live with the problem. I see exactly the same with drunken driving, 17,000/40,000 is a tolerable level, with nobody willing to step forward to make changes. If the numbers reach 25,000/60,000, will that be high enough for drastic measures?

Perhaps I've hijacked the intend of the initial commentary -- sorry, if that is perceived to be the case. But, the 18/21 year old issue is mere lip service to the real problem.

Oh yes, could somebody explain to me why the need to drink excessively? I'm still searching for an answer to that question. I am not a tea-tottler.

March 31, 2008 at 8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is not a need, except for one thing, freedom to choose. Drinking and Driving should be enforced, but one problem that has arisen is the lowering of the level of alcohol. When laws become unreasonable on one level, then the result is a lack of enforcement. If the levels were set at the real danger levels rather than for good publicity for political leaders, then enforcement could be maintained. Consider the efforts for other traffic control, if these efforts were actually spent on enforcing reasonable drinking and driving laws, then there would be better enforcement.

March 31, 2008 at 8:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The age of 21 means nothing--it is an arbitrary figure. What's the evidence that three years of acquired knowledge makes a person more "responsible?" It makes no sense for any country to have dual standards for voting, smoking, military service and drinking. If you're old enough to smoke and vote and die at18, you're old enough to drink.

March 31, 2008 at 10:45 AM  
Blogger grog said...

The best solution is to have sensors installed in vehicles that sense the presence of airborne alcohol. Then the vehicles can not be operated. Of course, that would violate some civil liberties, or some other nonsense. The law should be to keep drunk drivers off of the road, reguardless of their sex, or age. And in spite of offending any freedoms or liberties.

I wish I had such a car when I was a teenager driving drunk. That would have saved me a lot of grief and close calls of death. DO you remember those days Brant?? :)

As a side note Brant, I love your blogs. You are an insightfull and entertaining writer. I miss the old days and good times we spent together as buds. Keep up the good work.

March 31, 2008 at 1:26 PM  
Blogger Scott Beveridge said...

I once saw a T-shirt that read, "Drunks against Mad Mothers."
It had a big circle with a slash mark over the letters, DAMM.
You should get one.

March 31, 2008 at 9:36 PM  
Blogger Brant said...

To Grog,
I do remember those old days, although the memories of some are a little bit more hazy than others. Cheers.

April 1, 2008 at 9:01 AM  
Blogger PRIguy said...

In the past year, two men I work with were convicted of drunk driving. Each of them served time in jail, one of them endured a restricted license and the other had to have a breathalyzer attached to the steering wheel of his car into which he had to blow non-alcoholic breath in order for the vehicle to start, as well as every five minutes thereafter until he reached his destination. Punks. Irresponsible teenagers! Jeez! Kids these days!

But the difference here is that one is 62 years old and the other is almost 50 years old. For 35 years, the older man was the vice president of marketing for a huge company here in Richmond. The other fellow was the fourth highest-ranking person at the company where I now work.

I think 18 is all right for a legal drinking age for all the reasons Brant listed. I offer the same argument to people. MADD is one of the most powerful lobbying groups ever, and they use that clout to bulldoze their way through anything. Besides that, they have the emotional element in their corner. What crazy person would advocate drinking and driving?

It's all about personal responsibility. Clearly the men I work with chose to drive drunk and paid the price. In fact, the younger guy, when offered a ride home because he was so drunk at the time, replied, "I'm a professional." My point is that age plays no role.

Sure, most of us have driven when we shouldn't have. There have been times when I woke up and went straight to the garage to see what might have happened to my car on the drive home. But I was in my twenties by then. The last time I pushed the envelope when I was drinking, I was 45.

There won't be a change in the drinking age anywhere. If there is, they most likely will raise it.

April 6, 2008 at 8:55 AM  

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