A coalition of more than 100 presidents and chancellors of universities across the United States is pressing the US Congress to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18. This would reverse a two-decade-old policy under which young adults find themselves old enough to go to war but too young legally to down a beer.
Called the Amethyst Initiative after the gem that in Greek mythology warded off drunkenness, it has attracted the leaders of some of America's most prestigious universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Johns Hopkins. But it is drawing the ire of groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
It is theoretically up to individual states to set the legal drinking age. But it has been 24 years since Congress passed a law allowing it to withhold 10 per cent of federal road-building funds from any state government that declined to raise the limit from 18 to 21. All 50 states quickly complied.
The chancellors are arguing, however, that the higher age has been counterproductive. "It has created a culture of dangerous binge drinking on their campuses," a statement sent to Congress contends. It adds: "Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military but are ... not mature enough to have a beer."
Some students say that it is precisely because drinking is illegal that they are drawn to it. The greatest problems are at the start of the academic year, with a new intake of students. A survey by the Associated Press found that 157 college-age Americans drank themselves to death between 1999 to 2005.
The campaign also argues that the law encourages young Americans to acquire fake identity cards as their only means of entering clubs and bars. "By choosing fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law," it told lawmakers in Washington.
While the initiative has reignited a nationwide debate, it will face a strong head wind in Congress, not least because of the influence of groups such as MADD. "Who is going to stand up against Mothers Against Drunk Driving?" asked James Jones, the President of Trinity College in Connecticut, who supports the change. "It would be like standing up against motherhood and apple pie."
"Their facts are terribly wrong," insisted Jeffrey Levy, who sits on MADD’s board of directors. "They want to take themselves off the hook. If they change the law it's not their problem."Reuse content