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.