License to drink? College presidents think legal drinking age should go lower

Remember how seriously you took the test to get your driver's license? What if the same hoops and hurdles to putting 16-year-olds behind the wheel was applied to letting 18-year-olds drink alcohol? This is the solution to the abysmal failure of the 21-and-over drinking law discussed on CBS's 60 Minutes.

According to the segment, more than 100 college presidents, "including the heads of Dartmouth, Virginia Tech and Duke - signed a declaration stating that the 21-year-old drinking age is not working."

They argue the current drinking law pushes drinking underground, where alcohol abuse, in the form of binge drinking games, is rampant. (Maybe if they were allowed to go into bars they'd be socialized to drink moderately). One of the solutions is to lower the drinking age to 18, in the hopes that young people will lay off the binge drinking, which will no longer be criminalized, and learn the responsibility of drinking like they do driving.

Former president of Middlebury College in Vermont, John McCardell, told 60 Minutes' Leslie Stahl he wants to lower the drinking age to 18 and have "mandatory classes in high school that would include the chemistry of alcohol, the physical consequences of abuse, and sitting in on AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) sessions. Passing an exam would result in a license to drink."

A license to drink? I thought about this one for a while. My first reaction was: brilliant. Makes perfect sense. I sweated over getting my driver's license and have never, knock on wood, gotten into an accident. If being able to get into the bars meant passing a test, and my social life is on the line, I would pass with flying colors. Those classes would stay with me, and make me least likely to try to break any records on a kegstand--(see picture).
But 18-year-olds at bars? How strange would that be, with all the traumas of high school, introducing bars into the mix? There's always that awkward social divide between those lucky people with the "early" birthdays who got to drive before the rest of us; they thought they were so cool and had all the power until the rest of us turned 16. Imagine making 18-year-olds feel like gods for ditching their friends and going to the bars just to enjoy, wide-eyed, a pint, while a couple of grizzly locals stink up a corner booth. Meanwhile their 17-year-old friends are huddled together in some bedroom somewhere, while the parents are in the living room falling asleep to a movie, and sharing boxes of Keystone Light and tall cans.

As strange as it is that I'm fixating on the social mores of high school rather than the health and traffic consequences of lowering the drinking age, it's these social pressures that spread drinking games that teeter on suicide. The "Nasty Truth About Alcohol" drinking programs will help combat "drink till you puke" games, and getting allowed to drink at the same age you're trusted to vote and go into combat may make drinking less of a big deal for young people.

I'm all for lowering the drinking age, because it's obviously a law that's not working, but can't we lower it to 19? Just so high school seniors have a final year together just feeling and being like kids, whether they see themselves that way or not. I have full faith in college freshman, especially in this economy, to see the bars as a waste of money and getting to know college and your future friends-for-life a whole lot more interesting. Plus, introducing drinking earlier, it becomes less of a big deal, less of a fixation. Making people wait until they turn 21 to drink builds up drinking like some great right of passage you get to take simply by turning a year older.

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