The impetus for this, besides potentially making it easier on them to manage a mix of legal and illegal alcohol use on their campuses by lowering the legal age to 18, is the fact that the Transportation Department bill that created the age limit expires in 2009. Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984. It created a penalty of a 10% loss of a state's federal highway funding on any state that sets its drinking age lower than 21. That created enough incentive for states to set their drinking ages at 21. With that bill soon set to expire, the time is right to revisit whether it makes sense.
Of course, one of the first arguments that people opposed to the 21 age is that if you are mature enough to vote and fight in a war for your country then you are mature enough to consume alcohol.
People who are in favor of the 21 age point out that different things are legal at different ages. For example:
- 12 - age at which a person can obtain a hunting license
- 16 - age at which a person can get a license to drive
- 18 - age at which a person can serve in the military, on a jury, vote and sign a legally binding contract
- 25 - age at which a person can serve in the U.S. House of Representatives
- 35 - age at which a person can serve as the U.S. President
Recently in WA, a 12-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed a woman hiking with her family. He mistook her as a bear and is being tried as a juvenile for manslaughter. Was he mature enough to obtain that license? He had one, so someone thought so.
I think if people are considered mature enough to use a tool that can be used as a deadly weapon, as both guns and cars can be, they are effectively considered mature enough to be in control of who lives and who dies, surely a grave decision. When a person votes for president they affect who gets to decide what to do with out country's most deadly weapon — nukes. Is anyone mature enough to make that decision? I don't have the answer to that, but I think it's absurd that people are considered mature enough to decide that at age 18 but not mature enough to drink a beer.
As a psychologist I know maturity and good judgment do not suddenly become fully developed once a certain age is reached. It's highly variable. Some are ready to make decisions and handle their consequences earlier than others.
That's why I personally am in favor of lowering the drinking age to 18, the age at which people are adult in the eyes of the law. It's arbitrary but at least in line with what is commonly considered 'adult.'
Perhaps the answer is to require a license to consume alcohol prior to a certain age. In order to obtain the license, the individual must take courses in the effects of alcohol and pass a test that measures whether they understand the consequences of drinking too much, how much impulse control they have, and whether they know how much is too much. I'd support that as a compromise, but really I see no good reason to not lower the drinking age to the age of majority.
You can learn more about the college president's initiative here: The Amethyst Initiative
And you can learn more about the research behind what effect increasing the age limit to 21 here.