In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which changed the national legal alcohol purchase and consumption age to 21. Though states were not required to comply, those which did not change the drinking age to 21 were threatened with losing 10 percent of their federal highway money.
Though the act successfully reduced traffic fatalities related to drunk driving accidents, underage drinking has not stopped.
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, underage drinking accounts for 17.5 percent ($22.5 billion) of consumer spending for alcohol in the U.S.
Lowering the drinking age to 18 would allow 18-to-20-year-olds to consume alcohol safely in regulated environments, with supervision. Since the drinking age is 21, underage college students often consume alcohol in unsupervised spaces, such as house parties, where binge drinking and other drug use occurs.
Lowering the drinking age would also reduce the number of alcohol-related accidents among underage drinkers. Many underage drinkers will not seek medical attention, no matter how severe injuries may be, because they fear the legal consequences of their actions.
At age 18, citizens are allowed to vote, purchase tobacco, be prosecuted as adults and serve the country, so why can they not be allowed to purchase and consume alcohol?
If the drinking age was lowered, alcohol consumption could be less taboo for adults between ages 18 and 20. Alcohol could become a more integral part of American culture, making young adults less prone to drink excessively as an act of rebellion towards the currently implemented law.
In many European countries, the legal drinking age is 18 or lower, and minors are not as compelled to drink excessively because moderated drinking is part of the culture. Even though raising the drinking age in the U.S. caused a decline in traffic fatalities, the percentage of traffic fatalities in the U.S. is still higher than some European countries where the legal drinking age is less than 21.
Whether or not the drinking age is lowered, it is still difficult for the government to enforce the legal drinking age. Many law enforcement agencies consider enforcing the drinking age a low priority due to limited resources.
A 1995 study published in the Public Health Report found that only two of approximately every 1,000 occasions of illegal drinking resulted in arrests.
Underage drinking will occur no matter what the legal drinking age is, and lowering the drinking age to 18 will ultimately lead to safer consumption habits for young adults.