Who’s really abusing booze?

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on proposals to lower the drinking age to 18.Mothers Against Drunk Driving claims data shows that an “estimated 25,000 lives have been saved by the 21 drinking age.” Using data collected by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, MADD says that the 60 percent drop in fatalities from 1982 to 2006 involving persons 18 to 20 years old proves the point.

Choose Responsibility, a group hoping to drop the drinking age back to 18, counters that with its own data from a National Highway Safety Administration study that found “the largest number of alcohol- related traffic fatalities occurred among 21-year-olds followed by 22- and 23-year-olds. Twice as many 21-year-olds as 18-year-olds died,” which supports the assertion that the 21 law doesn’t reduce the accidents it postpones them, the group claims.

MADD sites age demographics and says when there are more people in that age bracket the numbers go up and when the population of that age demographic falls so does the number of fatalities.

Choose Responsibility says that other factors have not been given credit for having a more “dramatic” impact on lower fatalities. Safer cars with airbags, higher awareness of the consequences of DWI, designated drivers, and “more vigorous law enforcement.”

Who is crashing while drunk?

Data from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program of Vermont shows that over a 10-year period, drivers who had crashed and were charged with driving under the influence dropped from 320 statewide in 1995 to 49 in 2004

In 1995 seven drivers age 15-17, 40 more age 18-20, and 48 age 21- 24 were charged with DUI after a crash. The majority of drivers who were charged with driving under the influence after a crash that year were not under age, but from the older adult population. One hundred four drivers were 25-34 years of age, while 77 were 35-44 and finally there were 44 who were 45 years old and above.

Ten years later, the data shows a tie between the 25-34-year-olds and the 45 plus crowd. Each had a total of 12 crashes that resulted in a DUI , followed by the 35-44 age group with 9 accidents, and 21- 24-year-olds with eight. Coming in with the lowest number of DUI charges stemming from a crash were the 18-20-year-olds with five and the 15-17 year-olds with just one.

Currently in Vermont, a driver who is arrested for DUI must attend the CRASH program for their first or second offence. Counseling is also mandatory with the second offence. On the third offence, the operator faces a lifetime suspension of their license.

From July 1, 2007 to July 1, 2008 a total of 3,167 drivers were mandated to take the CRASH course as a condition of their DUI charge. Nine percent of those were age 17 to 20 while 21 percent were in the 21 to 25 age range and the remaining 70 percent were 26 or over with the oldest being 83 years old.

CSC student Andrew Cormier believes that drunk-driving rules should be tougher – regardless of your age.

“There shouldn’t be a drinking age. If you get a DUI, you lose your license,” he said.

But we can vote, die for our country .

Student Brittany Balla feels strongly that the drinking age should be dropped to 18.

“Some 18-year-olds are more intelligent and responsible than the average 25-year-old so why should they be punished? At 18 you can do everything else like. carry a gun, buy porn and cigarettes, why not that (alcohol)?” she said.

After countless attempts, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders sent back a brief e-mail to several questions essentially validating Balla’s thoughts.

“As you may know, for quite some time the legal drinking age in the United States has been 21 years of age. Gradually, during the 1960s and the 1970s, many states lowered the drinking age, until federal legislation enacted in 1984 threatened to withhold federal highway funding for any state that did not raise the age back to 21 years,” he wrote. “This arbitrary age makes little sense. We allow 18-year olds to vote, to marry, to sign contracts and we even send them to fight overseas. Yet somehow these same 18-year olds are not mature enough to drink alcohol.”

Vermont Rep. Michael Obuchoski (D-Windham) said that he wasn’t going to take up time with the issue now, but if it came up for vote “considering the information available” he would “support the lowering of the drinking age.”

If fact, he and Representative Bill Johnson, (R-Essex-Caledonia-Orleans) co-sponsored a resolution that called “on the federal government to forgive the state the transportation penalty if the state allowed the military under 21 to drink.”

Obuchoski also said that if 18-20 year-olds turned out strong for the vote and “put the state on notice that they were doing so in support of a lower drinking age, that would be a powerful political statement.”

To get the question on the ballot requires an action of the General Assembly. Residents would have to petition the select boards on a town-by-town basis.

Wolk agrees with Obuchoski that if the youngest voters organized they would have a lot of clout.

“More young people voted in the last election than in previous elections . there was a long time during the last 20 years or so after 18 year olds got the right to vote where their numbers were less than the regular population. If there was a draft I think you would see a lot more 18 to 20 year-olds,” he said.

He spoke of the ’60s when youths were motivated by race, poverty, and the war to demand a voice in government. When there was no longer a draft “so much of the youthful altruism subsided.” He went on further and spoke with pride about the CSC students who have been returning to activism and community service in greater numbers than other colleges.

Although a majority of students interviewed believe strongly that the drinking age should drop to 18, it’s certainly not unanimous. Ashley, who asked not to have her last name used, is 22 now and did not drink in high school. Her first experience with alcohol was when she was a freshman on another campus.

“No matter how low it is, people younger will always try to get it,” she said.

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