I support Choose Responsibility, a national effort to create a drinking license for 18 to 20 year olds. I live among college students. About a third of them don't drink alcohol at all, which I applaud. The majority, though, begin drinking underage. The rule we have set for ourselves today is that we adults forbid ourselves to teach students anything about responsible drinking before we turn them loose at 21. The result is a serious problem with binge drinking and regular drunkenness even among students who we know are smart and teachable. I think it would be better to try to teach young people how one can drink responsibly.
The main opponent of Choose Responsibility is Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Like all sensible people, I am against drunk driving. I feel safe in saying that all Choose Responsibility signatories are against drunk driving. What we differ on is which method will best reduce drunk driving (by anyone), and which method will best reduce teen drunkenness. I think the current method, formally forbidding teen drinking, has proven ineffective on both counts.
One of the arguments that MADD makes is that the mandatory 21 drinking age has saved 17 thousand teenagers who, statistically, would otherwise have died in drunk driving accidents. This is probably true. You know how we could save even more lives? Forbid teen driving altogether. Teenagers are much more dangerous drivers than adults are, especially teen boys. We could save many lives by forbidding them from driving. Is anyone ready for that national experiment? I'm not.
Yes, teen drinking is dangerous, more dangerous than drinking by adults is. But teen anything is more dangerous than the adult practice of the same thing, because teens take bigger risks and have less judgment about what is risky. In every other sphere we try to combat teen risk taking through education. I believe we should do the same with drinking.