October 26, 2007

Lowering the drinking age will increase U.S. road fatalities, says IIHS chief

Washington, D.C. – A presentation by Adrian Lund, President of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) states that lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18 in the U.S. will increase the number of alcohol-related road fatalities in that age group. Lund made the presentation at a meeting convened by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the American Medical Association, the National Transportation Safety Board and the IIHS to support a minimum drinking age of 21.

Lund’s presentation was in response to a campaign by former Middlebury College president and Choose Responsibility founder John M. McCardell Jr., who believes that reducing the drinking age will reduce clandestine and sometimes biologically dangerous levels of alcohol consumption among 18- to 20-year-olds. McCardell theorizes that the benefits for the 21-year-old drinking age are unproven, and that alcohol education for teens promises to be more effective in dealing with the problem of teen alcohol use and abuse.

“If we lower the drinking age, we will be killing more teens on the highway,” Lund says. “Actions among the states in lowering, raising, lowering, and raising again the age at which it is legal to purchase alcohol have to evaluate the effects of these changes on motor vehicle crashes.” Lund cited a 1974 IIHS study that looked at two states and one Canadian province that lowered the drinking age, and found that the number of 15- to 20-year-olds involved in fatal crashes increased in these jurisdictions.

Lund also says that IIHS studies in the 1970s found that teen crashes tended to be higher when high school driver education was available, and correlation was confirmed when Connecticut stopped state funding and many schools dropped the course. The result was fewer teen crashes. A model course developed by the Department of Transport was submitted to study; research found that the course increased the number of teens getting licensed and the number involved in crashes.

“This is an unintended consequence of driver education,” Lund says. “It can encourage earlier licensure that is not offset by any improvement in knowledge or skill. Drinking education will teach teens about alcohol, but it may only produce better educated drinking and driving teenagers while at the same time making our highways more dangerous.”

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