Legal Age 21

More lives have been saved in the last two years alone by safety belts and air bags than have been saved in the 22 years since the adoption of Legal Age 21

The rate of traffic fatalities-in all age groups-began to decline in 1969, more than a decade before Legal Age 21 was adopted

The US is one of only four nations worldwide with a drinking age as high as 21-we share this distinction with Indonesia, Mongolia and Palau.

Only 2 out of every 1,000 instances of underage drinking result in arrest or citation.

Most Americans know that the drinking age in our nation is 21. But many people don't know much more.

Here are some facts:

  • We don't have a national minimum drinking age-states are allowed to set the limit where they choose.
  • Despite this, all states abide by Legal Age 21. Why? Because the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which was passed in 1984, will withhold a percentage of federal highway funding from any state that chooses an age below 21.
  • The US is one of only four nations worldwide with a drinking age as high as 21-we share this distinction with Indonesia, Mongolia and Palau.
  • Legal Age 21 was only one of 39 recommendations offered in a comprehensive approach to fight drunk driving in the 1980s.
  • These other measures-tougher DUI laws, increased enforcement, mandatory sentencing, mandatory seat belt usage, .08 legal BAC limit, and a massive public information campaign-have been extremely successful in both reducing the instance of driving under the influence and alcohol-related deaths on the road.

The research shows that, by itself, Legal Age 21 has had very limited success.

  • The rate of traffic fatalities - in all age groups - began to decline in 1969, more than a decade before - Legal Age 21 was adopted
  • From 1969 - 1975, when many teens could drink legally, the teen fatality rate decreased by 19%
  • Since 1992, there has been remarkably little statistical decline in the number of alcohol related traffic fatalities
  • More lives have been saved in the last two years alone by safety belts and air bags than have been saved in the 22 years since the adoption of Legal Age 21
  • In 2002, according to a NHTSA study, the largest number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities occurred among 21 year-olds, followed by 22 and 23 year-olds. Twice as many 21 year olds as 18 year-olds were involved in alcohol-related traffic fatalities in that year.
  • Legal Age 21 has postponed fatalities - not reduced them - because every claim of an 18, 19, or 20 year-old life "saved" as a result of Legal Age 21 is offset by the number of 21, 22, or 23 year-old lives lost
  • The number of drunken driving fatalities tracks almost exactly, up or down, with the size of an age segment. So, when there is a larger number of 16-20 year olds, there is a larger number of drunken driving fatalities. When the number is smaller, the fatalities decline.
  • Four factors have combined powerfully (and dramatically more than Legal Age 21) to the decline of driving fatalities associated with alcohol: safer cars, higher awareness by drivers of all ages, greater utilization of a "designated driver," and more vigorous law enforcement