Lowering Drinking Age Term Paper

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Lowering the Drinking Age

The legal minimum drinking age is a highly debated and frequently contested issue in public policy and law. One of the most incremental issues regarding the legal drinking age is the number of automobile accidents, that involve drinking. DUIs are significant issues in any community and among teens and youthful drinkers they seem to be even more significant due to the fact that these drivers are inexperienced, often distracted and highly likely to challenge the boundaries of safe driving with or without alcohol. (Sarkar & Andreas, 2004, p. 687) There are those who say that a reduction in the drinking age will likely result in an increase in the incidence of DUI and DUI related accidents while still others say that the drinking age should be lowered as it allows drinking behavior to be monitored and controlled in a way that is positive for the community and would likely reduce incidence of DUI. (Brownfield, Fernando & Halberstadt, 2003, p. 22) the most logical argument of those who contest that a lower legal drinking age will result in a greater number of DUI incidences is that the ages in question are marked by an immature reasoning that allows actions that are outside of safety.

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A new science reliably shows that adolescents think and behave differently from adults, and that the deficits of teenagers in judgment and reasoning are the result of biological immaturity in brain development. The adolescent brain is immature in precisely the areas that regulate the behaviors that typify adolescents who break the law. Studies of brain development show that the fluidity of development is probably greatest for teenagers at 16 and 17 years old, the age group most often targeted by laws promoting adult treatment. (Fagan, 2005, p. 5)

Term Paper on Lowering Drinking Age Assignment

The reality being that those who are in the age group in question (17-20) are not always fully equipped to make wise decisions regarding risk taking behaviors, not the least of which is drinking and driving. They are also in an age group that is more often linked to adult treatment of offences, i.e. regardless of their basic fundamental immaturity they are held accountable for their actions in an adult manner. In other words they are likely to pay for serious mistakes made during this biologically immature phase of brain development for the remainder of their lives.

Add alcohol to the mix of immaturity, which often occurs with or without the legal ability to do so and reasoning is nearly completely blocked as alcohol has an intensifying effect on lowered reasoning skills coupled with severely increased impairment to do things like drive. (Fillmore, Carscadden & Vogel-Sprott, 1998, p. 174) Fillmore, Carscadden & Vogel-Sprott also bring up another significantly important issue with regard to drinking impairment, that may be specifically important for young inexperienced drinkers. The researchers point out in a statistically important manner the ways in which actual impairment is dictated by expectation of impairment. In other words those with a heightened sense of the impairment factor had a greater real impairment when performing functional and mental tasks. This expectation is often described by users as contact high, when a person is affected more than they should be by a limited amount of an impairing substance, and acts in the manner they expect the impairment to effect them. This phenomenon is most significantly apparent in young inexperienced drinkers, who although they might not have been significantly impaired by alcohol still respond in an impaired manner, when performing tasks such as driving. (Fillmore, Carscadden & Vogel-Sprott, 1998, p. 174) This leads some to believe that despite the potential for monitoring behavior that might be seen by bringing youthful drinking into legalization we are in short often handing youthful drinkers a serious weapon that will likely further impair their ability to make appropriate risk taking decisions and could in fact amount to nothing more than a loaded weapon. (Fagan, 2005, p. 5)

Methods:

One of the greatest benefits of this debate is that there have been many natural sociological experiments surrounding it due to the fact that nations and states have raised and lowered drinking ages over the period from the 1970s to 2000 and will likely continue to do so into the future as public and expert opinion dictates. (Wagenaar & Toomey, 2002, p. 206) This work will discuss two main peer reviewed articles that use two very different forms of research to come to conclusions about the issue of the lowered drinking age. Both works were found using Questia online library, as it offers a significant number of vital peer reviewed works on many subjects. Search functions were "lowering drinking age" (in quotes combined with drunk driving outside of quotes. Which offered me the best set of articles from which to choose. One work describes how a group of 20-year-old New Zealand college students responded to a lowered drinking age in the short period from its legal enactment and comparatively after a few months of the drinking age change. The work describes self report attitudinal surveys as its main statistical emphasis. (Brownfield, Fernando & Halberstadt, 2003, p. 22) the second work is actually a research review article that statistically breaks down a massive amount of literature regarding the variations in drinking age and its effects of many issues, including DUI behaviors. The work analyses the methodology and therefore validity of the many studies and discusses the percentages of statistical significance found in different research regarding correlations between DUI behaviors and lowered legal drinking age, as well as several other issues surrounding the debate. (Wagenaar & Toomey, 2002, p. 206)

Results and Discussion:

Wagenaar and Toomey come to a rather significant conclusion utilizing the research of hundreds of other scholars, that definitively a higher drinking age results in significantly lowered numbers of DUI incidence in both self report of behavior and actual accidents influenced by drinking impairment.

A the preponderance of evidence indicates that higher legal drinking ages reduce rates of traffic crashes. Of all analyses that reported significant effects, 98% found higher drinking ages associated with lower rates of traffic crashes. Only 2% found the opposite. The evidence, however, is not entirely consistent: 35% of the analyses found no association between the legal age and indicators of traffic crashes. However, focusing on the 79 studies of higher methodological quality (i.e., those that include a longitudinal design, comparison groups and probability sampling or use of a census) reveals that 46 (58%) of these 79 higher quality studies found a significant inverse relationship between the legal age and traffic crashes; none found a significant positive relationship. None of these studies of higher quality were college specific. (Wagenaar & Toomey, 2002, p. 209)

The significance of this information is detailed in that it uses a massive amount of research offering greater validity to research structures that have been proven more reliable over the years that science has been conducted. The body of literature discussed by these experts ranges from 1970-1999, and covers many natural sociological experiments of broad and narrow numbers. (Wagenaar & Toomey, 2002, p. 209) in short this work could actually reflect a real sense of answers to the question of the debate over the legal drinking age and what effect it has on the incidence of DUI.

Conversely the New Zealand study, though it developed a sense of relevance in that it studied a modern period of policy change from a higher to lower drinking age in a population seems to have focused intently on self report attitudinal information. The work concluded that there was a moderate increase in drinking behavior just after the law was changed but that the behavior leveled out within three months to pre-reported drinking levels and that the before and after period had no significant effect on individuals attitude about drinking and driving which was decidedly negative (when asked if a person should drive after having 1-2 drinks) the work uses survey, self-report and attitudinal data despite the fact that for many years there has been a clear sense that self-report and attitudinal data often is completely non-reflective of real behavior. One 1930s study is a clear demonstration of the fact that people's actions do not always match what they report their actions would or have been, and this is especially true with regard to socially charged issues. The 1930's study goes something like this a sociologists and researcher embarks on a trip across country in the company of a young Chinese married couple. During the experiment the Chinese couple and the researcher go to many public places such as restaurants and motels, and are refused service by only one of the 100 or so they visit. The researcher then goes home and develops a telephone survey asking proprietors their stand on serving Chinese people, and 90% said they would refuse to do so, even though the same group of proprietors (all but 1) had not refused to serve the Chinese couple but in fact had done so just weeks… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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