Turning 21: A Figurehead of Morality

July 8, 2008 at 9:44 pm 6 comments

21! YEAH.
As my 21st birthday creeps up this Thursday, I can only wonder: What does turning 21 mean in this country, anyway? I know that personally, all it will mean is that I can bar-hop without being paranoid about being carded. The fact that I still have a retainer has never helped, either. But with fake or faulty IDs being so easy to obtain (and make!), I feel as if I have been 21 for a long time- that is, I feel I’ve been a responsible adult that also drinks alcohol.

With a country that grants things like voter independence, military service, age of consent, and all-around “legal adulthood” at the age of 18, I have always wondered why the drinking age comes 3 years after. Is it because drinking is dangerous? Does the government think we can’t handle it? I’m even baffled as to why the age was 19 back in the 1970s. But what angers me most about this law isn’t that we’re deprived of legal drinks til we’re 21, but that it’s a government’s attempt at inflicting morals and virtues on a country that vowed to never mix politics with personal beliefs about what is “appropriate”. What’s worse, raising the drinking age didn’t even decrease the amount of teen drunk drivers. Why did they even raise it in the first place?

Me at 16. Sleeping it off on a band trip (probably).

Me at 16. Sleeping it off on a band trip (probably).

Think about it: regardless of what social status you held in high school or college, alcohol has probably been made available to you. It’s inevitable: If you want to drink before you’re 21, you’ll probably find a way. Same with pot, an abortion, and even a handgun; all things that our government has made illegal or hard to obtain.

I only wish the U.S. looked to the underage drinking problem the same way that most European countries do: lower the drinking age, raise the driving age. Currently, many states are already raising their driving age to 18 (New Jersey and Washington DC, for example). If they lowered the drinking age to say, 16 or 17, adolescents would be able to learn how to hold their liquor before getting behind the wheel, something a lot of my peers learned the irresponsible way by combining the two aforementioned activities, usually with a third element such as a tree, or parked car.

Me at 19. I'm the one in the pink dress. And yes, there was a flask under it.

Me at 19. I'm the one in the pink dress. And yes, there was a flask under it.

As researchers Peter Asch and David Levy of Rutgers University pointed out in a rebuttal to the New York Times claim that a higher drinking age is safer,

“Our research…shows that inexperienced drinkers are abnormally risky drivers regardless of their age. Specifically, those in their first year of legal drinking display unusually high fatality rates, and it does not seem to matter much whether they are 18 or 21.”

I can’t count the number of drunk accidents my high school has had, not to mention the three drunk drivers that have hit the same spot in front of my house over the past 10 years. Driving is a big responsibility, one that I still can’t stomach at times. To make a wrong turn in a car (even while sober) can damage innumerable lives: to drink a beer, responsibly, only affects yourself.

When I received my drivers license (at the young age of 16), I asked my teacher, “Really? Is that it?”
“But…But…we still haven’t gone over parallel parking!”
“I’m a private teacher. Only public companies teach you that.”
“And driving on the highway?”
“Ah,” I responded, chewing my fingernails.

In the 5 years I have had my license, I have only driven twice on the highway alone. *

Me at 18. Katrina, too, is trashed.

Me at 18. Katrina, too, is trashed. Notice how we are safely riding a SUBWAY

So why the big discrepancy in age responsbility? Most claim that it’s because rural families need their children to drive equipment on farms, driving trucks and tractors in middle america. Fine. Grant them a special license. But would it be so hard to raise the driving age to 18, and lower the drinking age in return?

I’m lucky: my parents let me drink often with them in the privacy of our home. I learned early on just how much I can handle, and also that, when put in a dangerous situation, I could always call home for a safe ride. But too many of my friends have been behind the wheel, claiming they were only “buzzed”, in order to make curfew. If they had called home for a safer ride, or permission to sleep over because they were drunk, or just so much as left their car and taken a cab home, they would have met unreasonable punishment thanks to parents that shared the law’s view of alcohol.

Me at 19. Preparing for the world cup final in 2006 in Melbourne.

Me at 19. Preparing for the world cup final in 2006 in Melbourne.

I know, adults still and will probably continue to drink and drive, but 5 years of driving experience versus 3 months is a huge difference (not that I am advocating drunk driving here), and the change could save thousands of innocent people. As well as my poor Saab, which was totaled by a drunken classmate in 2005.

The single-handed worse part about this law, though, is its effects on an adolescent’s opinion of what constitutes as risky behavior. It’s simple: making things illegal makes kids want to do them. I remember getting binge drinking out of my system at age 14, under my parent’s roof, and since that episode I can proudly claim that I have never drunk myself into oblivion. As the National Youth Rights Association pleads, “Young people must be allowed to get their feet wet through the introduction of alcohol in small amounts in safe environments like the home. Any permanent change to alcohol policy must stress this above all.”

Me at 20 (almost). Notice what a more experienced drinker I am over the years.

Me at 20 (almost). Notice what a more experienced drinker I am over the years.

In college, however, I have witnessed students becoming violently ill, heard of countless date rape druggings, and dealt with the horrors of calling someone an ambulance for alcohol poisoning. “No! Please don’t call! I’ll get in trouble!” is often the cry I hear from friends that need their stomachs pumped, if they can talk at all. “But Stacey… you’re DYING.”

This isn’t really a rant, this more of a disgusted sigh. If organizations against drunks drivers, like MADD, petitioned for people to respect alcohol, to drink it because it tastes good, and to introduce teens to this delicious but deadly substance gradually at a younger age, then I bet we’d have a lot less accidents and substance abuse. With such a puritanical government, I can only hope to teach my children the same way my parent’s have taught mine: illegally.

*This is one of the many reasons I live in New York.


Entry filed under: Miscellaneous Musings, Olivia. Tags: , , , , .

When A Cliché Becomes, Well, Cliché Chipotle’s Fat Ass Burrito

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. neekaps  |  July 8, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    I learned early on just how much I can handle…

    * ice cream cone in one hand cigarette in the other!

  • 2. alisaurus  |  July 8, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    if i had to guess why the drinking age is 21, i’d say it’s because there has been research that shows the younger a person is when they begin drinking (on a regular basis) the easier, faster, and more likely they will become substance dependent/abusive. (probably a much bigger risk to those with alcoholism in their family.) and if the obesity rate in america is any indication, it seems like americans tend to binge and be generally gluttonous, and not really know when enough is enough (portions, portions, portions!) does moderation exist in america? just a thought. also, i guess 21 is a safe age to say that the brain has stopped developing. i do think the drinking age should be 18 though, because it’s ridiculous that you can be drafted into the army and vote and not be allowed a drink.

  • 3. parkrangerolivia  |  July 8, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    But that is what i’m saying: there is NO research that shows pushing the drinking age back makes people more responsible. If anything, the Rutgers researchers pointed out that it only postpones the same amount of deaths. I agree, though, that Americans need to learn to consume less in general. However, the brain continues to develop far past the age of 21, as the NYRA link argues.

  • 4. alisaurus  |  July 9, 2008 at 8:55 am

    hey! i did not authorize the public use of my make-out face! that was supposed to be just between you and me…

  • 5. Tim Cameron  |  July 10, 2008 at 2:23 am

    Although there is a ridiculous disparity in America between the drinking age and the age at which you can drive / marry / kill foreigners, I still feel ambiguous about whether the age should be lowered, simply because America lacks the binge drinking culture that England has.

    Don’t get me wrong, I know that a lot of binge drinking goes on, but in England, every town on every night of the week is full of pissed-up lager lads staggering down the street, puking, causing fights and trying to molest the equally drunk gaggles of under-dressed teenage girls.

    Our drinking age is 18. It would be stupid to say the problem would go away if it were raised to 21, as I’m sure there are a thousand other cultural factors, but it would make it harder to get publicly drunk.

  • 6. parkrangerolivia  |  July 10, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    oh jeez, there is nothing worse than a drunk englishman. after living in Temple Bar, I’m pretty sure that’s all I saw every night. Isn’t the driving age also 18 in England? that’s a pretty dangerous mix!


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