60 Minutes: Our Response

Click here to read a statement from [CR] President John McCardell about the 60 Minutes segment.

Choose Responsibility believes that the serious problem of underground, excessive drinking is a direct consequence of the 21 year-old drinking age.  This type of alcohol use--binge drinking--is as urgent an alcohol-related problem today as drunk driving was two decades ago. We urge the public and our elected officials to heed this call to action, and to work together to find a comprehensive solution to this growing public health issue.

Click here for a transcript

You may have heard some of these arguments during the 60 Minutes segment. Here are our responses:

“The National Minimum Legal Drinking Age Act saves 1,000 lives a year.”

Or maybe 800. Or maybe more than 1,000. Depending on where you look, you’ll find many different numbers, all attributed to “science.” 1

What “science?” In fact, the statistic(s) cited are the result of a simple mathematical formula generated in several studies in the late 1980s. The formula takes 13% of the difference between one year’s alcohol-related traffic fatalities and the next and attributes the product to the 21 year-old drinking age. Recent research has called the consistent application of this formula into question.2

Furthermore, peer-reviewed research also notes that more than 1,000 lives of 18-24 year-olds are lost to alcohol each year off the roadways, and this number has been going up at an alarming rate.3

“The science is clear – Legal Age 21 saves lives.”

Well, this depends on how one defines “clear.” A peer-reviewed study notes that, of the 102 studies of the effectiveness of Legal Age 21, 52, or about half, show a positive relationship between the law and alcohol-related traffic fatalities. About a third find no relationship.4 So the science in fact is not at all clear.

“Education doesn’t work.”

The “science” behind this statement is very hard to find. Yet, incredibly, our own Department of Education has made this assertion. In fact, education can work and has worked. In 2004, students who completed the AlcoholEDU educational program were 20% less likely to be heavy-episodic drinkers and 30% less likely to be problematic drinkers – numbers that prove that alcohol education can be a useful tool in altering students’ drinking habits.5

To be sure, temperance lectures and scare tactics masquerading as alcohol education do not work. But to say unequivocally that education doesn’t work is to ignore compelling evidence – dare we say “science?” – to the contrary.

“The neurotoxic effect of excessive alcohol use has been shown to be a danger to … the maturing adolescent brain.”

Excessive (the key word) alcohol use poses physiological and neurological danger to anyone of any age, not just adolescents. No one advocates excessive alcohol use. But “science” (that pesky word again) indicates that drinking that takes place behind closed doors, in dark corners, and without supervision is more likely to be excessive. Legal Age 21 has effectively eliminated drinking from public places; it has not eliminated drinking, and, indeed, among those young adults choosing to drink, consumption has increased over the years. “Early, unsupervised drinking can lead to trouble for teens,” writes Professor Scott Swartzwelder of Duke University. “But this does not mean that an 18 year-old who has a beer or two every couple of weeks is doing irreparable damage to her brain.”

1 Kindelberger, J. (2005). Calculating lives saved due to minimum drinking age laws. NHTSA: DOT HS 809 860.
2 Kindelberger, J. (2005). Calculating lives saved due to minimum drinking age laws. NHTSA: DOT HS 809 860.
3 Hingson, R., Hereen, T., Winter, M. & Weschler, H. (2005). Magnitude of alcohol related mortality and morbidity among US college students ages 18-24: Changes from 1998 to 2001. Annual Review of Public Health, (26),259-279.
4 Wagenaar, A. and Toomey T. (2002). Effects of minimum drinking age laws: Review and Analyses of the Literature from 1960 to 2000. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, Supplement 14, 206-225.
5 Outside the Classroom. (2005). Research Results: Population-Level Prevention. Retrieved 25 June 2007 from http://www.outsidetheclassroom.com/images/PDF/Data_PLP_031605b.pdf

For Young Adults

Choose Responsibility recognizes that you are legally an adult and exists to empower you to speak up and make a difference.

For Educators

Choose Responsibility wants to help you understand and deal effectively with the realities of alcohol in the lives of young adults.

For Parents

Choose Responsibility is here to help you affirm and fulfill your parental role as your sons and daughters become adults.