Should California Lower the Drinking Age?

Posted by Jon Ibanez on November 9th, 2015

The California Secretary of State’s Office has paved the way for California voters to lower the drinking age from 21-years-old to 18-years-old.

Supporters of the lower drinking age have been given measure approval to begin collecting petition signatures. If supporters are able to collect 365,880 valid signatures by April 26 of next year, expect to see the "Minimum Drinking Age Initiative Statute" on the November, 2016 ballot.

Prior to 1984, states differed on the legal drinking age. That, however, changed with the passing of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984. While states we not legally mandated to make their legal drinking age 21 under the Act, states that did not risked forgoing federal highway funds. Consequently all states were prompted to raise their drinking age to 21 if it was not already there.

Although opponents have yet to make any comments regarding the new measure, I can’t see their silence lasting very long.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has long advocated for maintaining the current legal drinking age of 21. In their argument they cite a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimate from 2008 that the current minimum drinking age of 21 decreased the number of fatal traffic accidents for 18 to 20-year-olds by 13% and saved approximately 27,052 lives from 1975 to 2008.

Proponents of lowering the drinking age, however, have argued in the past that, since 1982 (two years prior to the Uniform Drinking Age Act), a decrease in drunk driving fatalities occurred across all age groups. Thus, the decrease in drunk driving fatalities cannot reliably be credited to states raising the legal drinking age to 21.

The measure’s proponent, Terrance Lynn, stated on his website, “This [measure] is about equal right. 18 year olds have nearly every burden and privilege of adults…except the right to drink alcohol. This is a misguided aberration from 1984 that should be corrected.”

According to an estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of finance on the fiscal impact of the measure on state a local government, California could lose approximately $200 million in federal highway funding. It also stated, however, state and local tax revenues could increase by several million dollars annually.

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