Lowering the Bar

For the most part, Canada and the United States are fairly similar to each other. We speak English. We have a lot of the same brands and foods and cultures. Maybe Canadians are just a tad nicer.

One major difference, however, especially apparent when on a college campus, is the legal drinking age. Obviously when I’m back in the States, students have to wait until they’re 21 to legally drink alcohol. Not that it stops most people from doing it, but the law is still in place. So many people go to college for the party scene, one I have no interest in whatsoever. All that comes to mind is stereotypical images of beer pong and chugging from a keg.

Canada, on the other hand, has a drinking age set at 18. There’s even a student-run bar right on campus. And yet class still continues on and the college is of high esteem in Quebec. Rather than people sneakily obtaining alcohol and having older friends buy it for them, people just casually have a little wine or vodka in their mini-fridge. Personally, no matter how subtle that difference might be, it still leaves me wondering: if Canada can do it, why can’t we do it, too? Again, the northern border is just a reflection of very similar lifestyles, so what factors stop the United States from agreeing with a majority of countries in the world who also have a legal age at 18?

According to CBS News, America increased its drinking age to 21 in the mid-1980’s in hopes of preventing drinking and driving deaths. As we very well know, however, this has not been the case. In fact, it’s the norm now to skirt around age restraints, and law enforcement struggles to actually find effective strategies to prevent this.

When we skirt around the law, that means we lose an opportunity to openly teach young people about alcohol safety and moderation.I see this argument going back to one related to sex education. Or, should I say, abstinence. While I’m personally not that interested in the birds and bees, teaching abstinence, as so many school districts do across the country, as the sole method of preventing STDs and pregnancy is not realistic. Just like anything else, people will be doing it anyways, whether the law is in place or not. It’s much more important to address issues head on to actually educate others.

According to RT News, New Hampshire, Minnesota and California have been reviewing pieces of legislation that would bring their state laws in line with much of the rest of the world’s – which would mean lowering the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. The overarching logic concerns curbing underage binge drinking and educating young people to hopefully adopt an attitude toward alcohol that is more moderate and social like Europe.

Perhaps we cannot mimic the Europeans, as America has a much different and often louder culture. Canada might be a better case study in this example. According to Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse, even with the drinking age at 18, the use and risky use of alcohol by Canadian youth appears to be declining, and other statistics are very similar to that of the United States even with a lower drinking age.

That isn’t to say that impaired driving is irrelevant. The National Post reports that  while fewer people were dying from motor vehicle crashes in Canada, the proportion of deaths linked to alcohol impairment was 34 percent, with the United States a close second at 31 percent.

Some Canadian provinces are already responding to this problem. The CBC found that Newfoundland is introducing a law that requires everybody under the age of 22 must have a blood-alcohol level of zero, even higher than the American drinking age. Looking at the minimum legal drinking age compared to drinking and driving statistics, and they don’t necessarily correspond.

Alcohol to an American under age 21 is “forbidden fruit.”It forces young people into risky behavior just with the illegal catch. It encourages people away from any controlled settings like bars and restaurants and forces them to drink and have parties wherever and whenever, no matter how safe.

With a lower legal drinking age, alcohol loses some of that extra luster. Inevitably it will still run rampant around college campuses, but the new light shed on it encourages more moderation, better safety enforcement, and more straightforward education specifically tailored toward drinking at a younger age. If any action should be taken, let’s make impaired driving laws stricter. America should not focus on the drinking age itself, but its implications because they’ll happen whether it’s legal or not.

I’m not a drinker by any means. Now that it’s legal here for me, I’m still not necessarily enticed to do it. I tried a bar, and it wasn’t my scene, but I know I’m an exception. Drinking is just another pastime. The less time we spend ignoring that and the more time we spend making the experience as safe as possible, the better off we’ll be.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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