Congressional Research Service
The Library of Congress
DRUNK DRIVING AND RAISING TEIE DRINKING AGE
In response to numerous requests for information on the related issues of
drunk driving and raising the drinking age, we have prepared this packet of
At the present time officials at the Federal level are becoming more concerned about these areas and are beginning to look for possible solutions
on a national scale. However, many State and local governments have passed
or are presently considering stiffer legislation. Information on action at
these levels can be obtaining by contacting the appropriate State or local
agency. Information at the Federal level is available from:
U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Washington, D.C. 29590
Additional information on this subject, particularly in newspapers and
periodicals, may be found in a local library through the use of such reference
sources as Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, Public Affairs Information
We hope this information will be helpful.
Members of Congress desiring additional information may contact CRS at
By Donid W. M o y h
Maryland's drinking driver
intervention program aids not
only in treating the
symptoms but also the
underlying probiemsof the
people who cause more
battlefields of wars.
THEold admonition "If you drive. don't
drink; if you drink, don't drive" is followed religiously by nondrinkers and
nondrivers, but few others. Unfortunately. we largely have ignored the
problem caused by drunken driven and
quietly accepted as inevitable the staggering human loss of life and limb and
property damage. The carnage caused by drunken glrive n is a national disgrace. More of our
citizens are killed or maimed each year
by drunken drivers thah were lost on the
battlefieids of Vietnam o r Korea. In 1980
alone, a typical year, 52.600 people were
killed, while 1,400,000 suffered disabling
injuries as a result of motor vehicie accidents, according to the National Safety
Council. The economic loss caused by
these accidents was a staggering 539.3
billion. Drinking was a causal or contributing factor in more than half of all
fatal motor vehicle accidents. Blood alcohol concenvadons were high enough
to indicate intoxication in 40 to 55 per
cent of all accidents involving driver
fatalities in 1980, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminisuation.
Until recently politicians, lawmakers.
and judges have failed even to acknowledge the problem, much less to propose
any reasonable means calculated to get
the dmnken drivers off the road. Perhaps
we have been too quick to identify with
the offenders and too ready to sympathite with their plight. to treat them as
law-abiding citizens caught up in a
web of circumstances beyond their con-
troi. We have failed to differentiate between the social and problem drinkers.
Now. at long last. a relentless and resolute public voice is being raised in protest. In Maryland. as elsewhere. public
officials are initiating and funding new
programs and enacting legislation that
recognize the problem created by
dnrnken driven and that attempt to address it. By every indication, the intensified law enforcement efforts are gomg
The success o r failure of new programs and the realization of the goal of
getting drunken dnvers off the road,
however, will ultimately depend on trial
judges. They are given a unique opportunity. They confront more problem
drinkers and alcoholics than does any
other profession o r group.
The traditional approach to sentencmg
has been to impose a small fine. A sccond or subsequent offender would receive a slightly higher fine and occasionally even a short jail sentence. Often the
administrative consequences of a conviction were avoided altogether because
the coun would grant the offender probation before judgment. Until a recent
change in t h e law in Maryland. for
example, the probation before judgment
did not even show up on the offender's
driving record. When the chances of gerting caught in the first place are slim and
the consequences flowing from drunken
driving are softened or excused by the
coun. it is not surprising that the arrest
and court expeience are of little help to
the individual or an aid to the enhancement of public safety on the highways.
A new approach to an old problem was
begun four years ago by Judge David N .
0 1 9 8 3 by the American Bar Association.
Reproduced by the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service
with permission of copyright clamant.
Batessf the District Coun of Maryland.
He s t a n d the drinking driver monitor
program of Baltimore County. which has
been nationally recognized And is now
being considered as a statewide model
by the Governor's Task Force on
Drinking and Driving.
In 1981 the D i s m a Coun for Washington County, Maryland, started the
drinking driver intervention program.
Many nf it* ertential features arc incorporated from or slight variations of the
Bates model and arc explained and outlined in the hope that our promay
be of interest to practitioners and judges
elsewhere in the United States.
Alcoholism Services. Inc., a nonprofit
corporation. has a coun alcohol counselor present in the courtroom at each
session of the Dismct Court for Wash-
ington County at which cases charging
driving while intoxicated and driving
under the inhence of alcohol are scheduled for trial. The screening and identification procedure takes place after a
guilty verdict has been entered and befote sentencing. After the judge enters a
verdict of guilty, a brief recess in the
proceedings is called so that the defendant and his counsel may meet with the
alcohol counselor in a conference room.
In addition, if the defendant consents,
any interested person
member, minister or rabbi, friend, or
The counselor may administer the
Johns Hopkins 20 questions, the Michigan alcohol screening test, or rely on a
less structured question and answer session. The counselor also may consider
the testimony, statement of facts, questions asked in the coun session, the
blood alcohol level, and the prior driving
and criminal record of the defendant with
particular emphasis on any alcohoid a t e d offenses.
The evaluation session general1y is
concluded within ten to I5 minutes, and
the participants return to the courtroom
for final disposition. If the time proves
inadequate and the information too
vague and inconclusive, the counselor
will request additional time-generally a
week or twa-to gather background data
and conduct more extensive screening
and testing procedures. Usually, however, the defendant can be identified on
the same day as being in one of these
categories: i l ) an early, middle, or
chronic stage alcoholic; (2) a heavy
recommendation in whole or in part, and
the ultimate responsibility for the sendrinker.
tencing of the individual, including any
The tend issue of whether the de- alternative sentence, rests with the
fendant is a social or problem drinker judge.
The question often has arisen as to
and whether the driving episode is
symptomatic of an underlying alcohol whether the treatment mandated by a
problem is considered. The counselor court probation order is constitutional.
also makes a specific recommendation Qeariy, the judge is at liberty to impose
for education or treatment, or both. The and to maridate partidpation in a treatidentification and recommendation to the ment plan in the same manner that any
judge are similar in nature to that in a other specid conditions of probation
written pnsentence report. The judge is may be manciami.
A second question often raised is
i to follow or discgad them.
Holding the screening and identifica- whether "required treatment" will prove
tion procedure immediately following the effective. The d d myth that only voluntrial and before the sentencing at the tary treatment will work and that a persame session of court bas proved to be sorr should not k coerced into treatmeat
cost effective. This eliminates tlie need
- . . -..: ,=sva-. ,
for a d d i t i d eial notices and for separate disposition hcatings and appearances on a second date. It saves everyone time and expense. Disposition is
made without delaying or clogging the
dockets. Court-directed intervention,
begun on the date of trial,has proved far
more effective from a treatment
standpoint. Treatment now begins on the
date of trial. Under the old concept,
weeks, aad in miny instances months,
elapsed before the defendant actually
began on any sort of education or treatment plan.
The principal educational aspect of the
program is the D.W.I. school, which is
appropriate to all three categories of offeadcn. The purpose of the educational
experience is to alert the defendant to the
hazards to himself and others of drinking has been discredited. The amcnt and
and driving and to alert the individual to more enlightened view held by the amed
the eariy signs and progressive nature of forces, large corporate employers, many
alcoholism. The instructors gperally use Alcoholics Anonymous members. and
tbe Socratic method. If tbe individual the National Council on AIcohdism is
rccognircs any eariy signs of alcoholism that recognition of the problem and eady
or problem drin&ing, an opportunity is intervention is the state of the an in alafforded for self-identification and vol- cohol treatment. On the question
untary referral to some further educa- whether forced treatment works, James
tional or trratment progmn. The cost, E. Royce of Seattle University in his
which is borne by each person assigned comprehensive survey, Alcohol Probto the school, is S75. For anyone who is lems and Alcoholism, writes:
"Research is not unanimous on the
indigent, the costs are waived. The
meetings consist of four twehour ses- point, but most evidence suggests higher
sions, which am held once a week for rates of recovery in forced treatment.
This, of course. may be at least partidy
four consecutive weeks.
If the offender is identified as an alee due to the earlier amst of the illness.
holic or problem drinker, the counselor The real danger is that not onIy the
makes a treatment recommendation tail- spouse but also fellow workers and the
ored to the individual's needs. The judge immediate supervisor will deny the
is at Irkrty to foUow or to disregard the problem or cover up for the alcoholic,
drinker who may or may not be an
alcoholic; and (3) a social or occasional
shielding from higher management in a
misguided form of help. which may acrud y be lethal. Whether it is called tough
love or constructive coercion. the experience of many programs confirms the
fact that forcing an alcoholic into treatment as an alternative to job termination
is saving jobs and lives."
The treatment approach generally is
m a v e d for people who have been identitied as alcoholics or problem drinkers.
It may include impatient care at a statenm institution, a Veterans Administration center, or a private treatment center
under an employer program. It may indude the weekend intervention program
at a community detoxification center,
which is aften used as a pan of the sentence for second and subsequent offenders. The in-patient care is generally one
month in duration, and the weekend intervention program generally involves
An effort is made to place the defendant in an afterere, out-patient program
immediately on release !+om the treatment fxdity. The after-care treatment
plan also is tailored to the individual's
needs, and an attempt is made to surround the individual with as much s u p
port as available. Ideally, the c o w alchd counselor will attempt to enlist the
support of the members of the family, an
employer or work supervisor, a health
department counselor, a spiritual adviser, and any other interested individufor example. an Alcoholics
Anonymous sponsor. Participation in
AIcohoiics Anonymous and total abstinence from alcoholic beverages during
the period of probation are integral pam
of the trcatment.
The treatment plan usud y will be limited to out-patient care only. While inpatient care may be preferred in some
instances, the necessity to retain the offender's job and attempt to stabilize the
family outweigh the advantages of inpatient w e in most cases.
Experience has shown that if t h e
treatment does not work, generaily
speaking, the plan has been too tentative, too timid, and too much time has
elapsed between sentencing and the beginning of treatment. A more intensive
pian over a shorter period of time.
promptly begun. has tended to work
better than a less intensive plan that
drags out over a longer period. Mandated
treatment should continue for a! least six ticular importance is directed toward the tion. The office at the center is staffed by
experienced individuals who can verify
month,. and if resources permit, it after-care treatment requirements.
Meals are furnished by the county the attendance and participation of the
should be extended to I8 months to two
yean. Ideally. the individual will con- sheriffs d e p m e n t , and the staff of Al- individual in the program and also can
tinue to participate in Alcoholics coholism Services is charged with the re- offer a great deal of suppon and underAnonymous or other treatment voiun- sponsibility for the offender's confine- standing.
If an individual fails to report or infortnrily after completing the special condi- ment or whereabouts at all times. A portions rnandated by the court sentence. tion of the cost. S 125, is borne by the mation comes to the attention of the
The chances for long-term abstinence arc offender. except that no one is denied the monitor of a probable violation of any of
greatly enhanced by beginning the mat- opportunity to participate in the program the special conditions of the probation.
beguse of indigency. In its tint year. 17 tbe monitor reports to the court, which
The idea of a weekend intervention persons successfully completed the may issue a warrant or summons chargprogram came about because of a weekend intervention pro~pamand only ing a violation of probation. Delay is kept
chronically overcrowded jail. Second two individuals had to be removed dur- to a minimum, and noncompliance with
and subsequent offenders usually werc ing the initial five-week period. In the the special conditions of probation result
bting sentenced to a short jail sentence. aftcr-care phase, 54 are attending Alco- in a prompt hearing before the sentencIf family and finand stabiiitjr or em- holics Anonymous regularly and are re- ing judge.
The monitoring aspect of the program
ployment would othemise be placed in maining abstinent. Of the other 23. conjeopardy, judges often werc allowing the tact has been lost with 14 and nine are tends to ensure compliance and reoffender to serve the jail sentence on . not attending Alcoholics Anonymous or enforce the message that the individual
must actively participate and co-opcrate
weekends. With the weekend influx remaining abstinent.
in the treatment plan or bear the conseadded to an already ovemowded jail,
some inmates were being housed in corquences.
The drinking driver intervention proridon under unsafe and unhealthy concases the concepts gram
has proved to be an effective
ditions. To relieve the pressure. our In
weapon in the fight to get drunken dnvcourt agreed tha~the drunken driver of- of punishment, on the one
fenders could be detained at a cornmuas off the roads. It not only deals with
nity detoxification center. Security has hand, and intervention and
the symptoms but also with the underiy-.
not proved to be a problem. In fact, in- treatment, on the other,
ing drinking problem. Deep philosophformalcounseling sessions began to take not mutually exclusive. Most
ical differences still exist among the trial
place. Alcoholism Services saw the p+
judges-those who feel that punishment.
tcntid and proposed the weekend p m judges incorporate treatment
alone is the answer and those who beto the court.
lieve that intervention and treatment are
Under this approach, the judge imimponant. But in attempting to reconcile
poses the jail sentence deemed ilppmpri- sentence that aiso includes a
that dichotomy, it is imponant to emphaate, taking into consideration the offend- number of punitive aspects.
size that the two concepts arc not mutuer's prior driving record. the aggravating
d y exclusive. While some judges have
and mitigating circumstances, and the
exercised judicial leniency to encourage
identification and degree of any problem
Participation in treatment is monitored an offender to participate in a treatment
drinking or alcohoiism. A portion of a weekly by A.S.I. to ensure that the of- program, the leniency is not pan and
longerjail sentence usually is suspended. fender is complying with the special con- parcel of the treatment program. Most
and the offender actually sewes a mini- ditions of treatment imposed by the judges are incorporating treatment as
mum of five weekends. The first court. Regardless of the hours the of- part ofan over-all sentence that includes
weekend is spent in jail, while the re- fenders work. they can report to the a number of punitive aspects. We have
maining four are at the deroxitication monitor at the center without missing found that proper treatment is far more
any time from work. It is centrally lo- inausive on the offender's time and lifeDuring the four weekends the offend- cated in the county and is staffed around style than most people realize and has a
en receive intensive education on the the clock, seven days a week. The definite punitive aspect.
disease concept of alcoholism and have monitor reviews the attendance slips
The drinking driver intervention prothe opportunity to discuss in group and from Alcoholics Anonymous and main- gram in Washington County. Maryland.
individual counseling sessions their un- tains records to verify the compliance is having a profound impact on people's
dentanding of the disease and its impii- with the conditions of the treatment as- lives and the public safety of our highcations. They attend five meetings of Al- pect of the sentence.
ways. It is a program reasonably calcucoholics Anonymous each weekend. R e
The monitor aiso has the opportunity lated to get drunken drivers off the
scntment and denial are highest in the to look the individual in the eye and in- roads.
beginning and diminish significantly quire as to how things are going and
during the third and founh weekends. whether the individual is abstaining ftom
(Daniel W . Moylan is an associare
The staff attempts to assess and deal the use of alcohol, if that is one of the judge of rite Circuit Court for Washingwith each offender as an individual. Par- conditions of the unsupervised proba- ton Counry. Maryland.)
Pro and Con
YES--"The only ones being Intimidated
are drunks and drug usersJ'
N W W e must bend over backward to
protect individual rightsJ'
Mr. R o e m u * why do you
ch.dtpdnfs to at& drunkm drlvom7
the w e of polit. chock-
A Half of the 50,000 traffic fatalities &h year in this
A Because they diminish the standard for pennissibie
searches and seizures that is laid down by the Fourth
corntry are alcohol related. This is a major concern in our
Amendment to our Constitution. That standard is, or ought
city and throughout the country. We are trying to respond
in a way that is effective and creates a minimum of
to be, that the police must have evidence leading them to
believe that a particular individual has committed a crime
,before they can stop or search him.
With police checkpoints or roadblocks, you don't have
A The checkpoints are situated at tollbooths where trafsuch a standard. You have what amounts to general, warfic automatically slows down anyway and at other points
rantless searches and seizures.
where traffic is heavy and accidents are likely. They are
~ ~ 7 ' 0 ~ m I d # . d # c h d a y b y d n t n k m d p t v manned by police under careful supervision.
As a car slows down in the traffic, a police officer walks
dongside it and tallu to the driver. As he does so, he looks
A- If you allow police to set this bind of precedent, tbey'll
for signs of alcohol or drugs-dmed speech, glassy eyes,
use it in other situations as well. Why not stop people at
beer cans, a smell of marijuana. He aLw hands the driver a
shopping centers to see if they have stolen some merchanpamphlet on the dangers of drunk driving.
dise? Why not search students for guns and drugs before
If he finds nothing suspicious, he lets the driver proceed.
they enter schooP Why not search people outside of bars or
Otherwise he has the driver pull over and administers a
in +t of banks? If we did that, our entire society would be
p r e h h r y breath test to determine alcohol content. If the
different and you could move around only with permission
driver fails the test, he is taken to a police station for a
of the police. We must bend over backward to protect indifurther t e s t 4 Breathalizer.
vidual rights, even in the face of serious social problems.
So, our +imis, f'ust, to catch drunk drivers and save their
lives and the lives of others; and, secondly, to educate and
.bout 8 p d b dHdrpolllf?
8 rfglrtr -8
deter the population at large.
A Stopping at a traffic light or stop sign or railroad
You don't yt.top mry H
crossing does not involve any police intrusion. It is different
A No. If a car is slowing down anyway-say, to pay a
from permitting the police to intrude by stopping, seizing
t o U e whole procedure may take place without even a
and seadung someone.
second of additional delay. On the other hand, if the traffic
conditions require it, we may ask the car to pull over so we
can talk to the driver without creating a safety hazard. That
k h n k r ~ h o r m R k ~ a I n t k n ~ t h . t n
may involve a delay of some 2 minutes at a maximum.
Q ~ ' t t h b ~ l l m c o m t r t O t h .A ~It's not intimidation in the sense that people have
been hauled out of their cars and beaten over the head, but
pmhlbitlon-rbibry-.ndit's an intrusion in the sense that the procedure is not
A It would if, without q x d i c grounds for suspicion, an
voluntary. You can't ignore it and get away with it.
unsupervised police officer stopped certah cars randomly
Suppose someone at a checkpoint rehws to roll down his
and arbitrarily--say cars driven by young women or anwindow and accept the little piece of paper they sometimes
tique cars. But the courts have found that checkpoints that
hand y o 3 Suppose someone just waves to the police and
are systematic and nonarbitrary are permissible.
Q ~ r m 0 t . u d r ~ r t o r m o f i n t l m l b t l o n o l t h .drives on? I would advise such a person to have a good
lawyer and some bail money ready, because they're going
A For an answer, look at the reaction of the public. We
to be in serious trouble.
The Supreme Court has not ruled specifically on these
have talked to 155,000 drivers in New York City since the
checkpoints But it has indicated repeatedly that, if a police
program began, and the reaction of the overwhelming maofiicer stops a car, this is the equivalent of search and
jority has been extremely positive, responsive and courteous. The people of this city have been effusive in thanking
seizure in the sense of the Fourth Amendment.
the police for doing this and indicating they thought it was
A Not if there's been an accident and a police officer
long overdue. The amount of criticism over intrusion into
C o M M @ 1983. U . S . N m 8 Wortd Report Inc.
Reproduced by the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service with perrniss
J u l y 4 , 1983
of copyright claimant.
Intorview Wlth Commlrrrlonc~McGulre (cmwud)
Interview Wlth Mr. Roomer (continued)
their lives has been minimnl. I think the only ones who are
being intimidated are the drunks and drug users, who
create a peril to themselves and others.
puts up his hand to make you siow down. But if he slows
you down or stops you to see if you're drunk or have
weapons or are transporting women across the statc line,
that is a legal equivalent of search and seizure. So, I would
object to such checkpoints on humamrights grounds even if
they were effective. But they aren't.
A In the whole state of Maryland, the number of people
arrested at checkpoints for drunk driving is well below 1
percent of those stopped. In Cecil County, the police made
more than 6,000 stops at the checkpoints and arrested only
31 people, or half of 1 percent. And there are no statistics
yet on how many of these were actually convicted of drunk
Q But oven H tow drunkom drtvors m crugM, don't chock-
Wh.1 h8ppUt8 H 8 drlvW, W W l tho-h
A Not a thing. The program is voluntary. A poiiceman
who did anything to such a driver would be compromisiug
the whole program by going beyond the Low.
That's why, before we ttarted the program, we cardully
trained our police &cers to avoid confrontation with the
A You're assuming that a drunk driver acts rationally.
People who are full of alcohol or other drugs are risk talers.
They believe they won't be caught
mvthermore, we move the checkpoints around-me toll
booth on lhesday and another one on Wednesday and so
forth--so nobody knows in advance where they will be.
Q la?th.proportton of drunk ~IIVU~
at arth ch.drpolntamyl~MHro,whyI.th.~rrwthth..ttort
A Since the program started on May'27, we've arrested
198 driven out of the 155,000 we stopped. That may not
look like a large number, but it's h o s t double the number
of ~ e s t we
s made in the same period last year, when we
had no checkpoints.
Even so, we fully reaiize that hundreds and perhaps'
thousnads of people who went through these checkpoints
had been drinking but were not caught, because we hadn't
d k h t evidence to make an amst
'But something even more important than the amstr is
the educational and deterrent effect the program hPs on
the population as a whole. It has gotten this problem on the
front pages of newspapers and to the top of people's consdouaness. For the first time, people are beginning to r e
ognize how serious it is.
point8 dobr nuny mace pot.nti.l offandorst
A They may at first, because whenever you introduce a
new lawenforcement procedure, people tend to be a bit
more cautious. But in three or four years, once it becomes
old hat, I doubt you1 see much of a deterrent effect.
EspecAly since you're dealing here with alcoholics, who
are suffering from an illness or compulsion and are going to
keep Rding up and down and killing people no matter how
many checkpoints the police put up.
Of course, there are all kinds of things you codd do to
deter crime. Suppose the police said: We are going to ride
through high-crime neighborhoods at night and arrest the
first 15 people we see. That would deter crime, because
you'd have fewer people on the streets, fewer people drunk
and disorderly. But it wouldn't be worth the cost.
Q Don't .t.tlrtlcr rhorr 8 rub.tmntld dmp in accidents In
A There's some debate about that in the state of Maryland The state police believe-and I have no reason to
disagree-that there has been a decline in alcohol arrests
and accidents in places where checkpoints have been put
into dfect But I think you would have seen the same result
even without checkpoint., due to generally stricter laws
t r d ~ r W t . d t O C W C l l ~ ~ ~ governing
8 a r ~
drunk driving and a dramatic change in the
h m d o u t o f t m f i k n t h . r t h . n c h . d d n g h u g o ~ o t handling of drunk drivers by the courts.
A few years ago, drunk driving was treated as a joke. It no
A The general patrol force is doing that, but that's not
longer is-and I'm glad of it. I'm all for getting those drunks
enough. The patrol force in New York--and I'm sure in
off the road and into the pokey. But I don't want to see the
other large cities, t o o - h much overworked. Most of my
Fourth Amendment whittled down.
police can are busy responding to emergency calls for help.
Also, Baltimore County argues that it has achieved the
The dam are none when we had large numbers of police same result--and much more cost-effectively, without
C M just batrolhg the streets,
so that if you got drunk and
speaa.l drunk-driving patrols.
drove, it was at your own per&
Q Isn't thm l e u &gar to evConsequently people have ber r y w who81 polatck drunk
come Ip.,and that's what we're
d r h r s 8t a Ch.drpdnt mUm than
trying to turn around--using
checkpoints and patrols to comA Even with checkpoints,
plement each other.
you still need patrols if you realQ Some pooplo are u y i n g
ly want to catch drunk drivers.
Unless a drunk driver is totally
th.mada~wlthoukth.pasmashed, he'll just turn around
Ik.rddhgtoIh.rrr-and drive down another street
A That's why we run our proif he knows there's a checkpoint
gram in such a way as to avoid
creating any. If the traffic gets
The police can do other
heavy, we might use only one
staking out bars
lane in a tollbooth for checking
and areas where there is known
purqoses, or check the next five
to be a high incidence of drunk
carslostead of the next 10. We're
driving. They've got a perfect
byir~gto achieve our goal with a
right to do that, so long as there
minimum of inconvenience. O
is no unwarranted intrusion.
.NEWS & WORLD REPORT, July 4. 1983
Pro and Con
U.S. News and World Report
January 30, 1984
Legal Age for Drinking?
Intervlew With John Volpe
Chairman. Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving
lntervlew With Governor Richard Snelling
Q Mr. V o w why dM the Prdd.cltW Commkrlon on Drunk
DrMng recommend denying federal hlghmy funds to states
ltut fall to maintain a minimum lo@ age of 21 for ttm purrh...
or puMk poubulon of .kaholk -7
Q Governor Snolllng, why do you oppose niung the legal
age for drinklng to 217
A Because it has been well established that although 16to-24yearolds make up only 20 percent of a l l licensed
drivers, they are involved in 42 percent of fatal alcoholrelated crashes.
A It is very well proved. Michigan, for instance, had an
increase of about 20 percent in deaths resulting from drunk
driving when it reduced the drinking age from 21 to 18 in
the Vietnam War era. They raised it back up to 21, and
there was a decline of 31 percent in such deaths. Reductions of fatalities from druuk driving by about 2,600 from
1981 to 1982-during a time when 14 states had just raised
the drinking age-show that we're on the right track. If all
nmaining states raised the age to 21, the lives of an estimated 730 more young persons would be saved annually.
nuttar t h t I8 tmdMoMlly mg-
b42 rrrcsatof fatal
uhtod by 8tat.87
A Our proposal would induce the states to design
hThis is oreferable. since
the states &e where the accidents haown and where the
police add court work has to
be done. A uniform federal
law would be difficult to
Q A man or woman can
Republican of Vermont
A Because it would mislead people into believing that
something had really been done to lower auto fatalities
from drunk driving. The statisticsoften cited as a reason for
raising the drinking age fail to justify in any way a conclusion that there will be fewer
10e ~ Instead, in almost every
state, it is tougher law ~
Y ~ a g j
enforcement and working 01 ~ O ~ ~ - P O i
harder in the schools to educate kids on the dangers of and SCh001~ me
alcohol abuse that- have
caused highway fatalities to
fall. We need- to do more
along these lines, such as by
tightening standards in tests
for alcohol in the blood. We
also should take away driver's licenses when we find
people repeating a drunkdriving offense.
QkcodngtomPrdd.cltW Cornon Drunk
f . m r young persons kilhd annually on the highway-
A That's a piece of hokum. The statistics cited do nothing to establish a causal relationship. The underlying numbers do show that many of the states that have raised the
drinking age have had lowered fatalities for a year or two.
But othirkates that have not raised the drinking ageVermont, for examplehave had even greater reductions
An exhaustive study published in the Neu England Jourfore fudtlng aQ0 21. Is It falr
t o ~ a u c h r p m o n o t t h e nal of Medicine shows that when Massachusetts increased
the drinking age, it had no effect whatsoever in reducing
right to buy alcoholic k v w fatalities attributable to drinking.
ages and drink In publlc?'
Q When om atate has a legal drinking age of 21 and a
A Drinking is not a right.
ndghborlng state has r I.gd age of 18, the result Is a lot of
It's a orivilene. Remember.
trwd across atate line8 by youth. wsking alcohokmrny of
too, &at an i&ividd is u i
whom got dnmk More they hit the road for home. Isn't this a
der constant supervision in the military services.
strong srgumont for a drlnking age that i8 uniform nationwide?
Q Don't mlnirnum-drlnklngage Imr,punish aU young pooplo
A Yes, to the extent that that's your god, a uniform age
A Some laws have to be passed that limit privileges of
of 18 would accomplish as much as age 21. But the Constitution of the United States sets the voting age at 18, and
some groups in order to stop abuses which jeopardize the
almost all states recognize the age of majority as 18.
Those who believe the federal government should have
Q Wouldn't It k mere effoctlvo to I m 8 u the number of
shoo4 programs that teach the danger8 of drinking?
some limits in its right to legislate for the states should think
very carefully about the precedent set by efforts to estabA Well, it will take a variety of things to stop this epilish a federally legislated drinking age.
demic of fatalities from druuk driving, such as better education b r youth, stiffer laws and better enforcement. We also
Q In today's society, nuny parent8 are unable to control the
drinking of thdr children aftw they reach 18. Doesn't the govhave to do a better job of educating adults.
Q Some people amtend that contrd of toen drlnklng should
.mnnnt have to set sorm standards to pmtm the public?
A Persons at the age of 18 may marry, have children.
kkfttopat.ntrsign contracts and do a host of other things that in reality
A It is different from 50 years ago. Too many parents
may expose themselves and their families and others to
today don't know where their youngsters are at night or
danger. What we should do is make sure that parents unwhat shape they're in when they get home. An enforced
derstand their responsibilities and urge them to set a propage limit of 21 for drinking is needed to reduce this tragic
er example before the child reaches the age of majority. 0
carnage on the highways.
O 1984 U.S. News 8 World Report. Inc. Reproduced by the bbrary of Congress.
Congressional Research Service with permission of copyright claimant.
New Y o r k Times, July 18, 1984, pp. Al, A15.
Reagan Signs Bill Tying Aid to Drinking Age
WASHPrGTON, July 17 m d m t
Reagaa, PppcaLing for amperation in
axling the ''cr~y quilt d diffcrcllt
drinidng laws," today signed
leghhtim Uiat would deny some Federal highway funds to stata that keep
tbeir drinking age under 2.
At a cemmoq in the white Hauc
Rose Garden. Mr. Reagan prai+i as
"a gnat n a t i d r n ~ ~ t m e n tthe
* ' effmLItoraisctha~gagethat
kgan ycan ago unang studand
"We know that drin#ng, plm driving, spell death and disaster," Mr.
Reagnn toid visitors an a sacltcnng afternoon "We k a that people in the
l&*D age group am more likely to be
in aifohoCrelrrted accidents than those
in any otherage group."
Mr. Reagan indirectly admaaledged
that he a m had ~scrvationsabout a
measure that, in effect, seeks to force
stata to cfiafge their poliaq. In the .
pea, Mr. Reagan has taken the view
that certain manas of amam to the
states should not be subject to the d i e
tat- of the Fedvrl -a
But ia the
of dmakea driving,
Mr. Reagan said '"The problem is bigger t ! ! the individualstates."
"It's a grave nationaIproblem, and it
touches all GP l i ~ , he
" added. "With
the pmblern so dearand the
pmvm sofutiun at hand, we hve no
in dropping his opposition to thc
measure. thc Raident had said he
aas pajunded by tbe evidence that
O 1984 The New York Times. Reproduced by the Library of Congress, Congressional
Research Service with permission of copyright claimant.
Reagan Signs .BillTying Aid to Drinking Age
~ m ~ H i l l , e w s o m e o t
tbosesuppaRtnstbemeusrtresaidpriW y that it was csucive.
mewythn stater have a mtnimrmr dnnLtng age of 21. In addition.
drinking age is 19 in New
New Jascg fn reduchg trrffic fatal-
parred tks 1rqislaff.r~
k aid "Irs
l u ~ ~ - o n y t o d a ~ * ~ .
The Drinking Age State by State
Y w gfven ara dates of last legisiattvechange in drinkingago. Statms
Uetedynderthe headings "18/21" and "1 9/21 " am tho= in which
limited purchaseof alcohol, such a8 beer. I8 permitted at 18 or 19.
W. VA (19831
S.C. (1935) "
TEXAS (1 8811
ME. (1 977)
ARIZ. *' (1984)
KY. (1 938)
MD. (1 9821
NEV. (1 933)
R.I. (1 984)
UTAH (1 935)
Drinklngage la 19 for tnld.ntr and 21 tor nonrddents.
EffecUve Jan. 1,1985
Dam not apply to rnllltaryparsonndoff their bases or chlldnn eating
with their parenm In nrteuranta
of New Jem?y* a Republican, andSenator Frank R hutenberg of New Jersey, a Danocnt The Presfdem said
cnsrcncs of "blood borders" when
C c c P P g a s "drhk and then carem
home aaid all too ohm cause crippling
Tb6PrcsidentsPidhew8a"Eoavfncsd.' tbal the IegwarAm aould
"Wp pamade state legislators to act
InthemtionnlinteruttosaveourchL1dm's lives, by raisrng the drinhng
he deplored the faa that fe!uer than
half the statc~had already med.
Mr. Reagan called the movement
Pgainst drPnlrm driving part of "a reb i d d an Amaican tradition of leadaMp" in wkicb movements start
levels. "It began in
the community, it spmad to state govCZrrmCrrPI aod noar ~t'swon wide sup
nation's capial," h
He said some states, such a. Florida.
basuse people ooasdered it unfair to
allow residenu to vote and serve in the
armel servrces at the age of 18 but na
todrink in public.
21 or Else Mandate Angers States
By Eklae S. Krupp, editor
tate officials are angry with the congressional ultimatum to raise the
drinking age to 21 or lose highway
funds. Even supporters of a higher
drinking age resent the -federal
"blackmail." There is talk of opposing the federal mandate and predictions that the
heavy federal hand will make it difficult to raise the
age in some states.
Still, it is felt that the loss of federal funds will be
too great for many states not to act.
The 27 states with lower drinking ages could lose
5 percent of their federal highway funds-in f d
1986 and 10 percent in fiscal 1987. Withheld funds
would be released once a state raised its drinking
The measure slid quickly through Congress despite protests from state officials over the federal
pre-rmption of state power. The federal proposal
was termed a ''drastic pre-emption of state authority" by the chairman of The Council of State
Governments (CSG), acting on behalf of CSG's
Executive Committee. North Dakota Rep. Roy
Hausauer, in a letter to the chief sponsor of the bill
in the Senate, wrote that state officials strongly o p
posed the bill "as a misuse of federal spending
power through the.grant-in-aid system. In an era in
which we expected to see more authority returned
to the states, and in which more states are imposing
tougher sanctions for drunk driving, federal preemption in this area is especially inappropriate."
New York Sen. John J. Marchi, a CSG Executive
Committee member, wrote U.S. Senate Majority
Leader Howard Baker that although the objective
of reducing highway deaths was laudable, the use of
"legislative blackmail" was no?.
The U.S. Senate, preferring the stick to the carrot, rejected a substitute measure to provide incentives for states that set the drinking age at 21. The
majority disregarded the plea of U.S. Sen. Gordon
J. Humphrey, R-N.H., who ask@, "Whm do we
stop enlarging the power of the federal government
and protect the sovereignty of the states?"
U.S. Sen. Steven D. Syrnms,bR-Idaho, queried,
"Do we have the right to force-feed our Washington wisdom down the mouths of our states?"
Sen. Symms cited the "contradictory evidence" on
the value of raising the drinking age and noted that
the worst offenders were age 21 to 24. U.S. Sen.
James McClure, R-Idaho, commented that the
State & ~ r n m n t News, August 1984
Congress believed it was smarter t'lan the 105 state
legislators in Idaho who had turned down a higher
drinking age in each of the past three years. He
warned of the danger in a central government imposing a nrle that the "people in my state have said
they do not want
Also speaking against the proposal on federalism
grounds were U.S. Senators Max Baucus,
D-Mont., Daniel Evans, R-Wash., and Alan Simpson, R-Wyo. Sen. Baucus noted that the people of
Montana had voted down a constitutional amendment to raise the drinking age to 21.
. .. .
Laws in 23 states provide for a 21-year-old drink-
ing age for all alcoholic beverages. Another eight
states and the District of Columbia have combination drinking ages, generally 21 for distilled spirits
and 18 to 19 for beer and wine. The drinking age is
20 in four states, 19 in 12 states and 18 in three
Many states lowered the drinking age in the
19705, influenced by a constitutional amendment
giving l&yearslds the right to vote and by the Vietnam War in which 18-year-olds fought and died.
The trend in recent years, spurred by the movement against drunk driving, has been to raise the
drinking age. From 1976 to 1983, 21 states raised
their drinking ages (to 19, 20 or 21). Four stataArizona, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Tennessnpassed minimum 21-yearsld drinking ages in 1984
sessions. Rhode Island's and Tennessee's Iaws took
effect this year; the rest take effect in 1985. The
drinking age was raised to 21 by 1983 sessions in
Alaska, Delaware, New Jersey and Oklahoma. A
1982 Maryland law will gradually raise the drinking
age until it reaches 21 on July 1, 1985.
The beer and wine drinking age was raised to 19
in South Carolina and South Dakota in 1984 sessions. In 1983, the drinking age was raised to 19 in
West Virginia and Wisconsin, to 20 in Connecticut
and to 19 for beer and wine in North Carolina and
Virginia. New Hampshire in 1983 passed a measure
to raise its drinking age to 21 when Maine and
Massachusetts did likewise.
In recent sessions, states have also cracked down
on youthful drivers who drink. Wisconsin imposed
an automatic W a y driver's license suspension on
drivers under 19 with any alcohol in their blood.
Conr 'd pg. 5
@ 1984 The Council of State Governments
Reproducedby the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service with permission
of copyright claimant.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Frank R.
Lautenberg, D-N.J., passed 81 to 16 on June 26.
The Senate added provisions to increase highway
safety funds by up to 5 percent for states that enact
specified mandatory sentences for dr;nk drivers.
States will be eligible if they mandate a %day
license suspension and two days in jail or 100 hours
of community service on a first offense; a one-year
license suspension and 10 days in jail on a second
. offense; a three-year license suspension and 120
days in jail on third offense, and a 30-day jail
sentence for conviction of driving on a suspended,
revoked or restricted license. The House gave final
congressional approval to the bill June 28.
The criteria for states to qualify for federal incentive grants in the new law is simiiar to that specified
by 1982 legislation ("the Howard-Barnes bill").
H.R. 6170 offered grants totaling $125 million to
states over three years beginning with fiscal 1983.
As of July, 15 states qualified for Section 408
grants: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New
Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Isladd and Utah. Five of these have
drinking ages of under 21.
Withholding of federal highway funds from
states without a 21-yearsld drinking age and the
mandatory sentencing provisions for drunk drivers
were among recommendations made by the Presi-
Arizona, Iowa, Kentucky b d Maine will revoke
the license of underage drivers who drink.
Quick Federal Passage
The quick passage.of the federal bill caught even
supporters off guard. The measure moved swiftly
through Congress after being attached to a $5
billion highway bill (H.R. 5504) by U.S. Rep.
James J. Howard, D-N. J. Rep. Howard, chairman
of the House Public Works and Transportation
Committee, a decade ago played a key role in
legislation that likewise penalized states unless they
passed a 55 mph speed limit.
After the amendment sailed through the House
on a voice vote June 7, President Reagan reversed
his position and supported the bill. Previously, the
administration had argued that the law would be
more effectively enforced if states acted voluntarily.
However, June 13, Secretary of Transportation
Elizabeth Hanford Dole announced administration
support for the legislation. She said that state
"momentum appears to have stalled," noting that
efforts to raise the drinking age to 21 failed in many
states this year. According to the U.S. DOT, bills
were introduced but failed to pass in 17 states to set
a minimum age of 21. Bills are still pending in Louisiana and Massachusetts.
Rather than approve the House-passed highway
bill, the Senate passed the drinking age provision as
an amendn~entto a child restraint bill (H.R. 4616).
Cont 'd pg. 6
for oulsf-rtale residenu.
Note: Elfcctlve Jan. 1. 1985 in Arizona and
Nebraska. South Gmlina beef and wine m y
rises to 20 a i t a Jmn. 1. 1985.
19 Beer. wine
State Couernrnent News, Augwt 1984
dential Commission on Drunk Driving, chaired by
John Volpe, in its final report last November. It
also urged a comprehensive approach to curbing
A minimum drinking age of 21 was also recommended by the National Transportation Safety
Board in July 1982.
These reports, supported by groups such as
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and
Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID),statistics on
teenage drinking-driving accidents, and polls show:
ing public support were cited by House and Senate
sponyrs of the legislation.
So-called "blood borders" which teenagers cross
to legally buy liquor are a primary target of the
federaj legislation. Sen. Lautenberg said New
Jersey had a problem ':known as border-slaughter,
because our neighboring state of New York has a
lower legal minimum." The presidential commission concluded only a uniform drinking age would
sohe the problem of teenagers crossing state lines
to drink. U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., cited
the recent defeat of a "21 bill" by the New York
Legislature as evidence "that not all states will act
on their own." He dedared, "Surely the national
interest in protecting the lives of our young people
outweighs the states' interest in setting a drinking
age lower than 21 years."
The Coaiition of Northeast Governors (CONEG)
had resolved in December to work for a regional
uniform minimum drinking age. The minimum age
is 21 in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode
Island, but is 20 in Connecticut, Massachusetts,
and New Hampshire, and 19 in New York. A major
lobbying effort by New York Gov. Mario Cuomo
failed to push through a higher age limit this session, however. A poll of CONEG states in midJune showed concern with "pre-emption and the
withholding of federal monies" under the federal
Crossover Sanctions Drastic Remedy
Both congressional sponsors denied the federal
legislation was a mandate to states. Sen.
Lautenberg and Rep. Howard called their measures
a means "to encourage" states to raise their
minimum drinking age to 21. Rep. Howard said his
amendment "allows each state to make its own
determination on whether to raise the drinking
age," and then face the loss of federal funds if it
did not. Sen. Lautenberg said it was "the same approach taken to enforce the 55 mph speed limit."
Acknowledging the bill was "strong medicine" and
that he was reluctant to-deny federal aid to states,
Sen. Lautenberg concluded it was necessary to savt
lives. The parallel with the 55 mph national speec
limit was also cited by U.S. Rep. Glenn Anderson
D-Calif., who said the approach was effective
because sanctions have not been used yet.
Loss of federal funds in one program for inaction
in another area is called a "crossover" sanction.
This method was also used to force states to adopt
billboard controls as required by the 1965 Highway
Beautification Act. However, the DOT did not
threaten states with loss of aid until several years
after the 1968 deadline for compliance. Only South
Dakota lost federal highway funds over the billboard issue.
In contrast, states acted within months after
federal legislation passed in 1974 to withhold highway funds from states without 55 mph speed limits.
However, enforcement proved a problem and a
federal requirement for compliance by 70 percent
of drivers was later changed to 50 percent. All states
are in compliance and no federal aid has been withheld. However, states resisted the federally mandated speed limit. In 1981, 29 states considered legislation to repeal the limit. Some states responded
by imposing fines as low as $5 for exceeding the 55
Crossover sanctions are viewed as severe remedies and, further, make states angry. Implementation of them can run into political trouble for
federal agencies. For instance, Congress took away
the power of the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration to withhold aid from states without
motorcycle helmet laws.
The possibility of further federal intrusion into
state responsibilities was raised by U.S. DOT
Secretary Doyle July 11. She said that the choice
might be between mandatory state seat belt legislation and a federal requirement for air bags in motor
The federal drinking age measure is viewed by
state officials as another pre-emption of state
authority. However, state officials have mixed feelings. Many agree with the concept of a 21-year-old
drinking age or with at least a uniform drinking
age. The disagreement is with the federal method to
achieve it. The use of federal sanctions is seen as a
big federal stick by states. For many, the issue is not
the merit of a higher drinking age, but roughshod
misuse of federal power.
Estimates prepared by the Department of Transportation show that the 27 states and the District of
Columbia with drinking ages below 21 could lose
$203.7 million the first year of sanctions and double
that the second year. Immediate reaction from
Conr 'd pg. 7
some was that states "had no choice" and would
have to raise the drinking age to keep from losing
millions in federal aid. Others, however, called for
state resistance to the federal mandate.
Connecticut, which has a %year-old drinking
age, but which shares a border with New York
where the age is 19, came close this ycar to tying its
age to adjacent states, reported Rep. Timothy J.
Moynihan. Rep. Moynihan was CSG c h a h a n in
1983. However, New York left its age at 19 and
Rhode Island raised its age to 21. Because it is so
easy to travel among the Northeastern states, the
different drinking ages are a real problem, Rep.
Moynihan noted. He added that Connecticut is unlikely to change its law until New York raises its
Although he does not think the federal government should be involved in state issues, Rep.
Moynihan noted that sometimes states cannot act
on an issue and that the minimum age will "keep
border crossings to a minimum." He added that
Connecticut probably would not be in violation of
the 1986 deadline and that the trend was toward a
higher drinking age.
Iowa has turned down a 21-year-old drinking age
five times since 1972, noted Speaker Don Avenson.
However, the vote was close this past session in the
House. The 1984 session did pass a tough dmnk
driving law, including a provision to revoke the
license of drivers under age 19 who drink and drive.
The pressure to raise the drinking age has been
building, Speaker Avenson said, fueled by statistics
of alcohol-reiated deaths among young drivers.
However, the feeling was that persons with the
responsibility of adulthood at age 18 ought also to
have the privileges of adulthood.
As far as the federal law is concerned, Speaker
Avenson said that most legislators were relieved
that the political decision was taken out of their
hands, but were angry at the federal pre-emption of
state powers. "Personally, I am very upset,"
Speaker Avenson said. "I am tired of federal mandates in areas I believe the constitution reserves to
the states." Iowa most likely will pass the 21-yearold drinking age within the next two years, he
predicted. Likewise, mandatory seat beits will eventually be required by the state. but similar federal
pressure would not help passage, he said. "These
preemptions can only go on so long before there's
a backlash," the speaker concluded.
Ohio Sen. Pres. Harry Meshel is opposed to
federal sanctions and called for "states with like
minds to join together and challenge this." He said
it was time that the federal government quit "putting blackmail hooks" on fcderal funds. Many
states in the Midwest and East are already not
receiving their share of highway trust funds, Sen.
Meshel said. He commented that the issue of
teenagers crossing borders to drink was not a problem in every state and not a statewide problem in
many. Border crossings alone were not good reason
for nationwide legislation, he said. In addition,
Ohio voters last ycar soundly defeated a measure to
raise the beer drinking age from 19 to 21. Sen.
Meshel said that resentment over the federal mandate had been expressed by the governor and legislators. He noted that it would be difficult to raise
the drinking age, and that there was not time to
review the merit of a higher age. "How many state
prerogatives is the federal government going to
erode?" Sen. Meshel asked. He urged unity among
the states to oppose the federal mandate.
The mood now in Wyoming is not to raise the
minimum age, said Rep. Patrick H. Meenan. Saying he was "appalled" by the federal mandate,
Rep. Mecnan declared that raising the drinking age
was not the issue, but the "federal government
sticking its nose in state" affairs was. "I was surprised; it seems contrary to everything Reagan said
he would do, as far as states' rights," Rep. Meenan
said of the federal sanctions.
Wyoming legislators have defeated bills to raise
the drinking age from 19 which is also the age of
majority there. Other arguments were that a higher
drinking age would deny jobs to youth in restaurants and lounges and that it is better to have youth
drink in licensed places "than out on the prairie."
Neither did Wyoming legislators feel a higher age
would reduce highway deaths, because 21- to
yearsld drivers are more of a problem. Rep.
eenan noted that there was quite a bit of sentiment to raise the drinking age, due to concern over
drunk driving. However, the state did further
tighten its drunk driving laws. He noted that the
U.S. DOT lobbidd hard for a higher age in Wyoming and other states, and speculates that the DOT
focused its efforfs in Congress after states refused
to go along with it.
"Everyone talks bravely" now about not going
along, but that could change as the loss of federal
funds nears, Rep. Meenan acknowledged. Still, he
wonders "what would happen if all states told them
to jump in the lake."
Georgia House Speaker Thomas B. Murphy
called the federal measure a "form of blackmail."
He sees the recent action by DOT Secretary Doyle
as another move to "blackmail the states into passing mandatory seat belts." Speaker Murphy said,
"If Congress cannot accomplish something, it
blackmails the states into doing it." Speaker Murphy predicted that most states, including Georgia,
Conr 'd pg. 8
State Couernment News, August I984
Merits of Lower
tatistics are cited by both sides in
legislative battles over the. drinkirig
age. The U.S. DOT estimates that
over the last 10 years, 250,000
Americans lost their lives in alcoholrelated crashes.
Most dangerous is the time between midnight
and 4 a.m. when a majority of fatally $jured
drivers had been drinking. The average blood
alcohol concentration (BAC) of arrested drunk
drivers is 2 0 percent, double the legal limit in most
"lit an era in which we expected to see
more authority returned to the states,
and in which more states are imposing
tougher sanctions for drunk driving,
federal pre-emption in this area is espec i d y inappropriate. "
CSG Cbrimua Rep. Roy H a w q e r
The presidential commission, in recommending a
drinking age of 21, cited a study indicating that 730
young lives would be saved if all states had a
21-year-old minimum age.
Frequently cited by proponents of raising. the
legal limit is a 1981 study by the Insurance Institute
21 or Ehe Cont 'd
would raise the drinking age rather than lose millions in highway funds. A bill to raise the drinking
age from 19 to 21 in Georgia failed to get out of
committee in the 1984 session. "I was opposed to
it," the speaker declared. He noted that 18-yearolds were old enough to fight for their country, inherit and buy property, but "can't spend 75 cents
on a beer."
In Virginia, where a measure to raise the legal age
for beer from 19 failed this session, Gov. Charles S.
Robb, a proponent of the higher age, cafled the
federal action coercive. "There are states' rights
issues involved," Gov. Robb said. An opponent of
the higher age, Virginia Sen. Peter K. Babalas, said
the state would not "have much choice if we want
federal highway funds. "
for Highway Safety. Out of nine states that raised
their minimum age, eight showed reductions ranging from 6 to 75 percent in fatal crashes for younger
drivers. Only Montana had no net reduction. The
study concluded that a state that raises its drinking
age can expect a drop of 28 percent in nighttime
fatal crashes for the affected age group.
However, those under 21 may not be the worst
offenders. Between 40 percent and 55 percent of
drivers killed in crashes had BACs of ,lo percent or
higher in 1981, according to a 1982 report by the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The report showed that of fatally injured drivers,
42 percent of those 16 to 19-years-old were legally
T h e s e pre-emptions can only go on so
long before there's a backlash. "
drunk, 54 percent of those 20 to 24-years-old were
and 59 percent of those 25 to 34 were drunk.
Vermont Gov. Richard Snelling, who has vetoed
efforts to raise the drinking age, cited a study in the
New England Journai of Medicine. It showed that
Massachusetts experienced no dedina in fatalities
attributed to drinking when it increased the drinking age. Gov. Snelling maintained that while states
that raised the drinking age have had lower fataiities for a year or two, other states, such as VerCont 'd pg. 10
. . ~
. ~ .
tower Age Cont 'd
"If Congress cannot accomplish something, it blackmails the states into doing
mont, have had even greater reductions in fatalities.
He said that tougher law enforcement and public
education cause highway fatalities to fall. Gov.
Snelling opposes the federal mandate for states to
raise their drinking age. Vermont is one of three
states with an l&year-old drinking age.
Geargin S p d e r Thomas B. Murphy
home rule units. The 1980 law also conformed 11Linois' drinking age with neighboring Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri. However, the report noted
that the law might "have increased the tendency for
the 1% and 20-year-olds to drive from Illinois to
lowa or Wisconsin to legally drink."
Most recently, the U.S. DOT cited figures from
New Jersey, which raised its legal drinking age from
19 to 21 years in January 1983. There was a rcduction of 26 percent in nighttime single vehicle driver
fatalities for the 19- and 20-year-old age group.
In states where drinking ages have been raised in
recent years, declines in accidents are attributed to
comprehensive approaches to drunk driving as well
as a higher minimum' age. Maryland has seen a
"dramatic reduction in highway deaths" of some
25 percent, reported Wayne McDaniel, executive
aide to Gov. Harry Hughes. A 1982 law which
phased-in over two years a drinking age of 21 might
be part of the reason, McDaniei said. He added
that Maryland had cracked down on drunk driving
in many ways. McDaniel said that despite the
state's comprehensive, effective campaign against
drunk driving, it probably would not qualify for the
new federal incentive grants. He suggested that instead of requiring state legislation, federal'incen-
Opponents of a higher drinking age point out
that those old enough to vote, enlist in the armed
forces, serve on juries, marry and be legally responsible for their own actions as adults, also should be
allowed to drink alcohol.
Opponents also maintain that raising the drinking age will not stop youths from drinking. A nationwide survey found that the same proportion of
high school students drank in states where the legal
age was 21 as in states where it was lower. Critics
also maintain that all young people should not be
denied alcohol because a few abuse the right to
drink. Another argument is that 21- to 24-year-oids
are involved in more drunk driving accidents than
the younger age group and that denying alcohol to
any age group would cause some reduction in accidents.
Some researchers and others also question the
use of accident statistics to make causal connections between drinking and accidents. They maintain that other factors may well account for the
The major argument raised for a higher minimum drinking age has been that it would reduce
highway deaths and accidents. Among other arguments are that it would reduce alcoholism among
young people because young legal drinkers obtain
alcohol for underage friends and that it would
decrease juvenile crime.
Wisconsin raised its drinking age to 19 on July 1.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Herbert
J. Grover, in urging the 1983 legislature to act, said
that there were "13,000 alcoholics between the ages
and 67 percent of Wisconsin's
of 13 and 19
12th grade students will reach the legal drinking age
of 18 prior to graduating from high school . . . '
He added that while drivers under age 21 comprise
12 percent of the driving population, they account
for over U)percent of the state's drunk driving convictions. Nearly 30 percent of the drivers killed in
Wisconsin car crashes who were legally drunk were
under the age of 21.
"How many state prerogatives is the
federal government going to erode?"
Pm. HMJ Muhd
tives should be based on results, including a reduced fatality rate. He added, "That's not the way the
(federal) law's written."
A general crackdown on drunk driving as well as
a higher drinking age have contributed to a decline
in traffic deaths in Oklahoma, according to Delbert
Kames, program manager for Highway Safety. He
cited prevention programs with teenagers which
emphasize peer pressure.
An Illinois Department of Transportation report
credits the raised drinking age with a decline in accidents for drivers 20 and younger. It estimates that
55 deaths and 2,750 non-fatal accidents have been
prevented in the three years since the law took effect in January 1980. The drinking age for beer and
wine was 19 from October 1W3 through December
1979. While overall driver-accident fatalities fell by
nearly 14 percent, the reduction was 1.5 times
greater for drivers age 20 and under (21.7 percent).
In addition, the 1980 Illinois law required all
local governments to follow the 21-year-old
minimum. Previously, minimum ages varied among
State Counntnmt News, August 1984