Here in New Jersey, as with the other 49 states, the minimum drinking age is 21 years. While rather unlikely, this restriction can sometimes be confused with the minimum age at which tobacco products can be purchased, which is 19 years old. Regardless, there are many people who argue that U.S. citizens who are old enough to vote and even join the military should at least be accorded the right to purchase and consume alcohol at a an age younger than 21 years.
In the Garden State, the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, as well as the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey formed what is known as the “NJ21 Coalition,” which is made up of representative groups from government, law enforcement and education, as well as non-profit agencies who are all opposed to any suggestion of reducing the state’s minimum drinking age.
Those opposed to lowering the minimum drinking age often point to 1980, when the state’s minimum legal drinking age was bumped up to 19. Preceding that legislative move, annual drunken driving fatalities among young people 18 to 20 years of age was at an all-time high of 88. Then, in 1983, the drinking age was raised once again to the current 21-year limit; the annual death rate among that same segment of the population dropped again, this time to 45.
Safety proponents and law enforcement officials make a strong case that a higher minimum drinking age reduces alcohol-related traffic deaths. As recently as 2007, when just 10 young people lost their lives in drunk driving crashes here in New Jersey, that particular death rate has remained fairly constant. The question, for some proponents of lowering the state minimum drinking age, is not whether more DWI deaths are acceptable, but whether otherwise legally entitled individuals have the right to consume alcohol just like all other adults.
Interestingly enough, the NJ21 Coalition was established following a nationwide movement of college and university presidents, spearheaded by John McCardell, president emeritus of Middlebury College, who believe that the minimum legal drinking age of 21 should perhaps be lowered. Known as the Amethyst Initiative, the participating university presidents have stated openly that alcohol education, which essentially mandates abstinence as the only legal option for college-age students under age 21, has not resulted in any significant behavioral change among students vis-à-vis underage drinking.
Part of the motivating force behind this movement could perhaps be considered an enforcement issue. However, it is interesting that regardless of the law against underage consumption of alcoholic beverages, many college students flout the law with extreme frequency. Then there are the tragic results of alcohol-related highway accidents involving underage drinkers that maim or kill innocent people.
One news item that brought this topic to mind involved a Rutgers University football player who was suspended following a drunk driving accident in late October. The 18-year-old cornerback from Piscataway was barred from the upcoming game against Temple University following an early-Sunday morning car accident. The young man was subsequently arrested by Rutgers University police officers and charged with DWI as well as careless driving.
One could say that incidents like this do not help the Amethyst Initiative’s effort to have the minimum drinking age dropped below the current 21-year-old limit. At the same time, proponents of the initiative could also be asking whether the current law helped in any way to prevent this particular instance of drunken driving from taking place.
Rutgers cornerback suspended this week for DWI charge, MycentralJersey.com, October 28, 2013