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Minimum Legal Drinking Age: What Conversation Should We Have?

Categories: Motor Vehicle Safety

Over the past several months, there has been a lot of talk about the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA). Should it remain at 21, or should our country consider lowering the drinking age to 18 years old? 

Those who support lowering the MLDA to 18 suggest that the current MLDA supports a culture of underage binge drinking. But what the data show– and what we at CDC support and believe– is that the current 21 MLDA helps support a culture of safer driving. The evidence supports the fact that it saves lives.

At the Injury Center, one of our goals is to prevent motor vehicle crashes-the number one killer of teens and a leading cause of injury and death for people of every age. Our scientists, along with staff from the Guide to Community Preventive Services, have compiled scientific evidence supporting the fact that the current 21 MLDA helps keep teen drivers safe. A review of 23 studies found that, among 18-21 year olds, raising the MLDA to 21 reduced crashes by 16 percent, while lowering the MLDA from 21 to 18 increased crashes by 10 percent. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that the current MLDA of 21 has saved nearly 25,000 lives on our nation’s roads.

CDC strongly supports maintaining the MLDA at 21 because it can save lives. We also support strict enforcement of MLDA laws as they apply both to buyers and sellers of alcohol to underage youth.

Many organizations have Web resources that offer details on why keeping the MLDA at 21 makes sense, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the Governors Highway Safety Association(GHSA), the National Transportation Safety Board, the American Medical Association, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The MADD-developed site, www.why21.org, is a one-stop resource that includes a history of the drinking age law, links to recent news on the MLDA topic, and resources to help everyone prevent underage drinking.

We all want to help make sure that kids live to their full potential.  As a parent, scientist, and in my current role as the director of CDC’s Injury Center, I know that there is a significant, positive public health impact associated with keeping the minimum legal drinking age at 21 years old. It can help save young drivers’ lives.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. December 12, 2009 at 7:44 pm ET  -   Julie Holland

    The real question is whether legalizing drinking at 18 is going to make a positive difference for anyone. What is the benefit to society of having more people drinking more freely? Since studies show that the younger someone is when they start drinking, the more likely they are to become an alcoholic, I fail to see the benefits. Yes, many teens and young adults drink before they are 21. However, they all know it is illegal and they make a choice. Allowing them easier access to alcohol is not going to help them in any way. In fact, since we now know that the human brain continued to develop until 25, perhaps 25 ought to be the new legal drinking age. I am sure we would see a huge drop in alcoholism, drinking and driving, child abuse and other ill effects of alcohol if everyone waited until thier brains were mature before drinking. Julie Holland

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  2. May 24, 2011 at 12:27 pm ET  -   Carolyn

    Studies also show that the earlier one begins drinking, the more vulnerable they become to alcoholism. Furthermore, excessive drinking can cover up other emotional issues such as depression and anxiety.

    Lowering the the MLDA would not benefit anyone. Alcoholism affects over 18 million people in this country alone. The statistics are staggering. One of the primary symptoms of alcoholism is denial. Alcoholics are not the only ones that suffer from denial. Unfortunately, it appears that most of this country is as well.

    Best to you,

    Carolyn

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    • July 29, 2011 at 9:52 am ET  -   directorsview

      Thank you for your comment. CDC supports maintaining current minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) laws.‬
      ‪‬‪
      If screening patients for excessive drinking were more common in trauma centers, emergency departments, and primary care, more at-risk drinkers would be identified and get help earlier —and this intervention may also help to address related issues such as depression and anxiety.‬

      Information about that recommendation can be found here: http://www.thecommunityguide.org/mvoi/AID/mlda-laws.html. ‬

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  3. January 13, 2012 at 10:28 pm ET  -   Amy

    I guess this will be a timeless issue, drinking and growing up generally are rather closely aligned, wish I had a solution.

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