123 College Presidents Sign Initiative to Lower Legal Drinking Age, Group Opposes

WASHINGTON & DALLAS – The following is a press release from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). More than 100 college presidents have signed the Amethyst Initiative, a proposal that would reduce the legal drinking age to 18 years of age.

College officials maintain that lowering the drinking age would combat binge drinking on campuses. They believe that the current legal drinking age of 21 has led to secretive “binge drinking.” Among those college presidents who have signed the initiative include leaders from Duke University, Johns Hopkins University and Morehouse College.

MADD representatives highly oppose the initiative and believe lowering the legal drinking age would cause more harm to students.

As students head back to school, more than 100 college and university presidents have signed on to a misguided initiative that uses deliberately misleading information to confuse the public on the effectiveness of 21 law. The initiative is led by another organization with a political agenda of lowering the drinking age in the name of reducing college binge drinking.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) National President Laura Dean-Mooney said, “Underage and binge drinking is a tough problem and we welcome an honest discussion about how to address this challenge but that discussion must honor the science behind the 21 law which unequivocally shows that the 21 law has reduced drunk driving and underage and binge drinking.”

MADD, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the American Medical Association (AMA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Governors Highway Safety Association and other science, medical and public health organizations, and all members of the Support 21 Coalition call on these college and university presidents to remove their names from this list and urge them to work with the public health community and law enforcement on real solutions to underage and binge drinking. Additionally, MADD is asking the public to write letters to their governors and college presidents to support the 21 law and ask those on the initiative list to remove their names.

“As the mother of a daughter who is close to entering college, it is deeply disappointing to me that many of our educational leaders would support an initiative without doing their homework on the underlying research and science,” said Dean-Mooney. “Parents should think twice before sending their teens to these colleges or any others that have waved the white flag on underage and binge drinking policies.”

What the Experts Say
Top science, medical and public health experts as well as congressional and state leaders agree on the effectiveness of the 21 minimum drinking age law in saving lives.

University of Miami President and former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, said maintaining the legal drinking age at 21 is a socially and medically sound policy that helps parents, schools and law enforcement protect our youth from the potentially life-threatening effects of underage drinking. “As a three-time university president, I can tell you that losing a student to an alcohol-related tragedy is one of the hardest and most heart-rending experiences imaginable,” Shalala said. “Signing this initiative does serious harm to the education and enforcement efforts on our campuses and ultimately endangers young lives even more. I ask every higher education leader who has signed to reconsider. I am old enough to remember life on our campuses before the 21 year drinking rule. It was horrible.”

“The traffic safety and public health benefits of the 21 minimum drinking age law have been well established, with the Department of Transportation estimating nearly 1,000 lives saved each year as a result. I strongly support this lifesaving law, and will not consider any effort to repeal or weaken it in any way,” said Congressman James L. Oberstar (D-MN), Chairman, U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“Drunk driving needlessly kills thousands of young people every year. That’s why I wrote a law to create a national drinking age of 21 and why we fight so hard to reduce drunk driving and save lives on our roads,” Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) said. “This small minority of college administrators wants to undo years of success-that defies common sense. We need to do all we can to protect the national drinking age—a law that saves the lives of drivers, passengers and pedestrians across the country each year.”

“Countless lives have been saved since Congress raised the national minimum drinking age to 21 in 1984. We need to maintain this important law and the life-saving protection it gives our teens and others on the roads,” said U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), a member of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works. Ronald M. Davis, Immediate Past President of the AMA said, “It is impossible to ignore the scientific evidence demonstrating the dangers of underage drinking. A young adult’s brain is a work in progress, marked by significant development in areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory, complex thinking, planning, inhibition and emotional regulation. If we lower the age at which young adults are legally allowed to purchase alcohol, we are lowering the age of those who have easy access to alcohol and shifting responsibility to high school educators. The science simply does not support lowering the drinking age.”

“Age 21 drinking laws are effective in preventing deaths and injuries,” said NTSB Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. “Repealing them is a terrible idea. It would be a national tragedy to turn back the clock and jeopardize the lives of more teens.”

Adrian Lund, president of IIHS, said, “This initiative aims to lower the drinking age without proposing a realistic substitute. It reflects ignorance about the years of research comprising the scientific justification for 21 laws. Sound policy should be based on sound science. What is the evidence that education programs would be an effective replacement for minimum drinking age laws? There is none. If states lower the drinking age again, more teens will drink and drive and more will die.”

The Public’s Perspective
The public strongly disagrees with efforts to lower the drinking age. According to a new survey released today by Nationwide Insurance, 78 percent of adults support 21 as the minimum drinking age and 72 percent believe lowering the drinking age would make alcohol more accessible to youth.

“While advocates argue a lower drinking age will curb teen binge drinking, our survey shows only 14 percent of Americans agree and 47 percent believe it will actually make a huge problem worse,” said Bill Windsor, Associate Vice President of Safety for Nationwide. “Americans feel so strongly about teen binge drinking more than half say they are less likely to vote for a politician who supports lowering the legal limit or to send their child to a known “party school.”

The Science Behind the 21 LawAs one of the most studied public health laws in history, the scientific research from more than 50 high-quality studies all found that the 21 law saves lives. In addition, studies show that the 21 law causes those under the age of 21 to drink less and to continue to drink less throughout their 20s. The earlier youth drink (average age of first drink is about 16), the more likely they will become dependent on alcohol and drive drunk later in life.

College Binge Drinking
There is a perfect storm of affluence, opportunity and tolerance on college campuses. Access to alcohol on college campuses is a particular problem – where underage students drink because they can and they are in a high-risk environment where enforcement of the law varies widely.

In fact, research shows that more than 30 perce
nt of college students abuse alcohol and six percent are dependent on alcohol – rates much higher than for young adults who are not in college. Research also shows that the problem of binge drinking is worse among college-age students in college versus those who are not in college.

“By signing onto this initiative, these presidents have made the 21 law nearly unenforceable on their campuses. In fact, I call into question whether or not these campuses are bothering to enforce the 21 drinking age,” said Dean-Mooney.

Some universities are taking strong steps to enforce the 21 law and change the drinking culture in their campus communities. Solutions to the problem are centered on enforcement of the 21 law, sanctions for adults providing alcohol to those under 21, changing the environment found on many college campuses and tightening alcohol policies on campuses, and working with local establishments in college communities selling alcohol to sell responsibly and to ensure those under 21 are not being served.

The U.S. Surgeon General issued a call to action to solve the underage and college binge drinking problem in 2007. Several steps have been taken by communities and MADD will engage parents and other health and safety leaders this fall on the topic to ensure parents specifically are armed with the tools they need to combat underage drinking early-before peer pressure begins.

Dean-Mooney added, “It does not make sense to increase access to alcohol when there are already so many problems with underage drinking. As it stands, about 5,000 people under age 21 die each year due to underage drinking. This is not to mention the sexual assaults, violence, and injuries.”

MADD Aug. 19, 2008 press release

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