The Debate On Lowering The Drinking Age

60 Minutes: Some Say Age Should Be Lowered To 18, But MADD And Others Strongly Disagree

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John McCardell points to the story of Gordie Bailey as one reason he supports lowering the drinking age to 18 which after all, he says, is the age when we're considered adults for most things, like firing a weapon and putting you're your life on the line in battle. "Why don't we trust these young adults to make the same kind of responsible decisions about alcohol that we believe them capable of making in the voting booth, in the jury box, on the battlefield?"

"The inconvenient truth is that a drinking age at 18 would cause more funerals. Nine hundred families a year would have to bury a teenager," said Chuck Hurley, the executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving or MADD.

MADD was a major force behind raising the drinking age to 21 back in 1984 because of increased traffic fatalities from drunk, teenage drivers.

"When the United States reduced its drinking age in the seventies it was a public health disaster. Death rates in the states that reduced their drinking age jumped 10 to 40 percent," Hurley explained.

He told Stahl one could see an immediate jump in fatalities after the age was lowered. "When the drinking age was increased, the fatalities fell."

After the drinking age was raised to 21, the number of traffic fatalities among 18 to 20 year olds declined by 13 percent, which is why Hurley has some public health organizations on his side.

"We're delighted to be working with the American Medical Association, with the National Transportation Safety Board, with the National Safety Council, with the International Association Chiefs of Police, with the Governor's Highway Safety Association, with the Surgeon General of the United States, with the U.S. Transportation Secretary," Hurley told Stahl.

"There are a list of impressive organizations that have lined up against you," Stahl told John McCardell. "They feel that you have no data to back up what you're saying. That what you're proposing would be basically an experiment."

"Well, I think that first of all we need to understand that lives are being put at risk off the highways in increasing numbers year by year as a result of this law," McCardell replied.

"Increasing numbers," Stahl remarked.

"That number of lives lost to alcohol by 18 to 24 year olds is going up at an alarming rate. It isn't just about lives lost on the highways," McCardell replied.

So what we have is a conundrum: a law that has reduced highway deaths may, according to McCardell, be contributing to an increase in off-highway deaths. The surgeon general says more than 3,000 Americans under the age of 21 are dying every year of alcohol-related causes other than driving including homicide, suicide, and alcohol poisoning.

The chilling statistics appear to have little impact on behavior. As evidenced by a quick tour of the Internet, Web sites glorify excessive drinking and even teach kids how to do get loaded in a few seconds.

These drinking tips are so common and popular, YouTube and are used like instruction manuals.