April 16, 2005

Get yer drink on

Seven years ago, I was living in Scotland and had come to the US for Spring Break. It was April 17th and my friend Millie and I went to see Radiohead at Radio City Music Hall. I was going to be 21 at midnight and this was a great way to ring in my birthday.

We got on a line to get some wine and were asked for ID. Three hours before my 21st birthday, it was almost comical when I got turned down.

In Scotland the drinking age was 18, but 16 when you ordered food and 14 when you looked a little older than you were. Also, the New York of my teen years was a crazy free-for-all where I had seldomly been asked for ID. I had been working at nightclubs like Limelight and Club USA since before I turned 16 and remember being 15 and offended that a touristy spot on Bleeker once dared question my age. Additionally, I'm Russian. Drinking is a part of life. My parents do shots of vodka with dinner, champagne with brunch, beer with lunch.

I have a problem with U.S drinking laws. Twenty-one is simply too old. Few people (like the dorky Dawn Summers) will actually wait to be legal before drinking. The fact that it is illegal only makes it more exciting for younger people. And, like the argument goes, if you're old enough to drive and you're old enough to serve your country, you're old enough to have a drink or two without committing a crime.

Apparently, it's not enough to make it illegal for a 20 year old to have a drink at a bar, it will now also be illegal to have a drink at home, with enforcement coming soon to a town near you.

Proponents of the Connecticut ordinances say they address a loophole in the state law that makes it a crime for anyone under 21 to drink on public property but does not prohibit drinking in private homes. "If police go to a home and look through a window and see a kid drinking beer, there's nothing they can do unless they're invited in," says Craig Turner, vice chair of the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Underage Drinking (CCSUD), which has been a major force in pushing for the ordinances.

This, of course, begs the question of whether there are real crimes these officers can be solving instead of peering into windows to catch a 19 year old sucking down a bud.

Exceptions are made for kids who drink when their parent or legal guardian is present, but even if teens have their parents' permission to drink at a friend's house, they are in violation if that parent is not on the premises.

I find that even more absurd. A 19 year old can be married with children, could've just come back from a tour of duty in Iraq but their parents need to approve their drinking?!

Some towns are struggling with the privacy issue with a Council member in Danbury, Connecticut noting that reasonable cause can be 'If police go up to a house and look through a window and see a bottle of wine on the shelf and a minor in the home, that would be enough to let them enter the home.'

Learning responsible drinking early is the best way to fight binge drinking in teenagers. The sooner we make an 18 year old having a glass of wine with dinner not a crime, the better.

Posted by Karol at April 16, 2005 03:48 PM | TrackBack
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Great! Guess I'll figure out which wall would be best for the Telescreen.

Posted by: Shawn at April 16, 2005 04:42 PM

I couldn't agree with you more. I was just talking about this today with some people. I find it ridiculous that an 18 yr old can serve our country, but not be able to drink.

Posted by: Rightwingsparkle at April 16, 2005 10:17 PM

Or, for added pith:

They can serve their country, but their country can't serve them.

Yes, this is silly jackassery. Make 18 the age for ALL majority. (Note to states where sixteen-year-old girls are legal: you can keep that.)

That's right, I said it.

Posted by: Jay at April 17, 2005 02:36 AM

I'm way too lazy to actually look it up right now, but I did the research a couple of years ago and I'm pretty sure I remember this right. Somebody else can Google around behind me.

Between 1970 and 1975, 29 states lowered the minimum legal age from 21 to 18, 19 or 20. Statistics for motor-vehicle crashes among teens skyrocketed, particularly for night-time single-vehicle crashes. Almost immediately, campaigns sprang up to raise the minimum age back to 21. By 1983, about half the states had. In 1984, the federal government tied highway funds to the minimum legal age, and by 1988 all 50 states had restored their minimum legal ages.

The incidence of motor-vehicle crashes among teens correspondingly dropped to pre-1970 levels.

Y'all can haul out all the abstract arguments you want. They're all valid. The you-can-serve-but-can't-have-a-beer thing? Valid. The but-Europeans-do-it thing? Valid. The civil-rights thing? Valid.

But for me at least, every one of those arguments is trumped by the empirical data. When we lowered the drinking age to 18, more property was damaged, more people were hurt and more kids died. When we raised it again, the numbers went back down.

The higher minimum age works. For me, that makes all the other arguments purely academic.

Posted by: Jeff Harrell at April 17, 2005 12:59 PM

But I think that the reason for that happening is that these kids don't learn that alcohol is a part of life. It's so taboo that they needed to change laws for you to have a glass of wine. It won't change overnight but with binge drinking being the problem that it is, a change does need to be made.

Posted by: Karol at April 17, 2005 01:08 PM

Binge drinking is part of our culture. It's part of many countries culture. Many countries in Europe and Australia binge drink. I think the countries were moderate drinking for people under 25 is part of the culture is in the minority, such as your wine with dinner, example. Countries like France, Italy, the the Benelux countries, maybe Spain fall in this category.
I wouldn't say most of Europe has an enlightened style of drinking, that's a myth.

They just don't have the drunk driving problems we have because less drunks drive over there. For a whole bunch of reasons like public transportation being able to walk or take a taxi home.

Posted by: PAUL at April 18, 2005 04:11 AM

Surely it would be better to make drinking legal at 14 than 18. This way people have 1-2 years to get that crazy 'must get wasted' attitude out-of-the-way (and let their folks collect them) before they start driving.

Also you cant use a patriarchal justification to ban something for people. Ban anal sex cos it will mean less people have sore arses? This is the sort of reasoning that means parents sue councils for providing swings if their child falls off and gets a bruise - so that now councils dont provide swings. How about going to prohibition, then if no-one drinks you'll have less accidents?

You have two choices I think:
(I think that's the state motto for a few states?)

Telling people they can't drink does not sound much like FREEDOM, especially if you are prepared to send them to their DEATH for your own freedom.

Jeff Harrell, you should revoke your American citizenship and move to China.

Posted by: Monjo at April 18, 2005 08:17 AM


"The higher minimum age works. For me, that makes all the other arguments purely academic"

I had a feeling that those stats probably were going on behind the scenes.

I would perfer to raise the age to serve in the miltary to 21.

sounds fair to me.

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