Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21 in US Should Be Maintained Research Paper

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¶ … United States, there is no official national minimum drinking age, but in a practical sense, there is a nationalized consensus among all 50 states to maintain the minimum age of 21 for the legal consumption of alcohol. That is attributable to the fact that the federal government has made that a necessary criterion for state eligibility for significant federal highway funds in keeping with traditional uses of Congress' spending power. Some of the arguments against the age of 21 as a minimum drinking are that: (1) the minimum drinking age is excessively paternalistic; (2) the use of federal funds to force states to comply with federal policies is unconstitutional; and (3) drinking is no different from other responsibilities that do not require a minimum age of 21. For example, 18-year-olds are eligible for military service and that they are considered "adults" in various other ways in connection with rights and privileges granted only to adults.

However, supporters of the minimum drinking age argue that because the evidence is so overwhelming that teenage drivers already represent the highest risk of all drivers in terms of vehicular accidents and fatalities, it makes sense to prohibit them from drinking simply because it is much more difficult to prevent teenagers from driving under the influence of alcohol if they can purchase and consume it legally.

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TOPIC: Research Paper on Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21 in US Should Be Maintained Assignment

Both driving and drinking (separately) are activities that people without experience typically do less intelligently and competently than they do later with more experience. For example, new drinkers frequently misjudge the amount of alcohol that can safely consume in a given time period and often become much more intoxicated than they intend to (NHTSA 2005; Fisher, 2006). Naturally, the combination of inexperienced drinkers driving without much driving experience compounds the dangers of drunk driving tremendously (CDC, 2007; NHTSA 2005). As a result, the federal government strongly encourages all 50 states to maintain a minimum drinking age of 21, mainly because of the risk that lower drinking ages will dramatically increase the numbers of inexperienced drivers (who may also be inexperienced drinkers) driving under the influence of alcohol.

Reason #1 -- Teenagers are already the Most Dangerous Drivers on the Road

Approximately 50,000 Americans are killed in drunk driving accidents on the nation's roads and highways and teenage drivers are responsible for a disproportionate number of drinking-related traffic accidents and fatalities in comparison to their proportionate representation in the total driving population. There are several reasons for this. Teenage drivers account for an extremely disproportionate number of both minor and serious vehicular accidents for several reasons (NHTSA 2005): First, they are, by definition, the most inexperienced drivers on the road since most people begin to drive as teenagers. Second, vehicular accidents are responsible for one-third of all deaths among teenagers, far more than any other single cause (CDC, 2007; NHTSA 2005). New drivers account for the most traffic accidents and receive the most moving violations precisely because driving is also a complex activity that requires considerable experience to do well and safely (NHTSA 2005; Schmalleger, 2009).

Counterargument # 1 -- The Minimum Drinking Age is Excessively Paternalistic

The first main objection to the national drinking age of 21 is that it is considered excessively paternalistic to except drinking from all of the other types of responsibilities with age minimums (Dershowitz, 2002; Taylor, 2002). For example, at the age of 18, an individual is legally entitled to enter into binding contractual agreements and to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces; all states allow 18-year-olds to drive and engage in consensual sex with other adults and most states actually have lower ages of drivers license eligibility and statutory sexual consent than 18 (Friedman, 2005). Proponents of lowering the drinking age to 18 (that most common age suggested instead of 21) argue that if 18-year-olds are considered legally responsible enough to drive and engage in other adult activities that require the maturity level of an adult, there is simply no basis for differentiating drinking.

Rebuttal # 1 -- Public Health, Safety and Welfare is much more Important

In one respect, the proponents of lowering the drinking age may have a good point: namely, it is not appropriate for the government to impose excessively paternalistic legislation that infringes on personal freedoms in a way that is purely arbitrary. In order to limit liberty and freedom, there must be a very good justification for it. However, in the case of regulating conduct like driving, the importance of public safety and welfare and the dangers involved in irresponsible or incompetent driving are simply far too great to worry about the paternalistic aspect of the higher drinking age.

It is also true that the responsibility of carrying deadly weapons and of being in situations and circumstances where an individual must exercise judgment about whether or not to take a human life requires at least as much maturity as the decision to drink alcohol in a responsible manner. For that exact reason, the fifty states maintain different minimum ages for purchasing and consuming cigarettes and other tobacco products ranging from 18 to 21 (Dershowitz, 2002).

However, the crucial difference between smoking and drinking is that smoking, as inadvisable as it is for health reasons, does not impact the life and welfare of others, whereas drinking very frequently does. Were it not for the fact that drinking alcohol renders driving so dangerous to the health, safety and welfare of other people, there would be no more justification for maintaining a higher minimum age of drinking than for smoking. Unfortunately, there are several specific aspects of teenage and young adult psychology, physiology, and behavioral patterns that make drinking even more dangerous among younger adults who also drive than it is among older adults, notwithstanding that there may not necessarily be anything about drinking itself that justifies special treatment under the law that is different from smoking or driving.

Reason # 2 -- Federal Funds Linked to the Minimum Drinking Age Make State

Highway Systems Much Safer and Pay for More State Police Services

Because all 50 states choose to follow the federal recommendations to maintain the minimum drinking age of 21, the federal funds for which they are eligible pay for a tremendous amount of necessary services that would otherwise be a drain on state resources or that might not even be capable of being provided. Because the individual states comply with the minimum drinking age of 21, federal highway funding eligibility allows every state to maintain the best and safest possible roads and to hire, train, and maintain much larger and better equipped state highway patrol agencies than they could possibly do without federal funding assistance. The choice by states to reduce their state minimum drinking ages would compromise the safety of their state highway systems by depriving them of billions of dollars in highway funds fro the federal government.

Counterargument #2 -- The Constitutional States' Rights Issue

The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution expressly reserves the right to the individual states to govern themselves in matters not ceded to Congress or the federal government under the Constitution (Freidman, 2005). Opponents of the nationalized uniform drinking age of 21 object to the fact that this is de facto control by the federal government over what are supposed to be sovereign state's rights under the Tenth Constitutional Amendment (Dershowitz, 2002). They argue that it is unacceptable for the federal government to impose its authority on the individual states by pressuring them or threatening them with withdrawing their eligibility for federal highway funding.

According to that view, the federal money provided to state highway departments is crucial to maintaining infrastructure and to paying the salaries of state highway patrol agencies and the administrative agencies that maintain the safety of state highways. By linking the eligibility for federal highway funds to complying with federal "suggestions" for the minimum drinking age of 21, the federal government is, in effect. They argue that this mechanism is the same as establishing a national or federal law of a minimum drinking age that violates the sovereignty of states' rights and the Tenth Constitutional Amendment.

Rebuttal # 2 -- The Congressional Spending Power is Perfectly Constitutional

Actually, there is absolutely nothing unconstitutional about the federal government using it spending power to provide strong incentives to comply entirely voluntarily with federal recommendations (Dershowitz, 2002). In fact, this is a very common method relied upon by the federal government in connection with safety standards and other issues that Congress deems important enough to encourage voluntary compliance by states but without violating the constitutional limits of federal imposition on state sovereignty (Edwards, Wallenberg, & Lineberry, 2008; Goldfield, Abbot, Argersinger, et al., 2005).

The use of the federal spending power by Congress to incentivize state compliance in no way imposes federal authority over state sovereignty precisely because every state always retains the option to forego eligibility for federal funding to which it is not otherwise entitled and to regulate matters such as the minimum drinking age entirely… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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