Tuesday, August 19, 2008

This Idea Is Making Some People MADD, But I Like It

This debate has been going on for years, but I didn't expect this particular group to have such a strong position on it. The issue? Lowering the drinking age in the U.S. back to 18. The advocates? A group of about 100 college presidents. Seriously.

And we're not just talking about "Podunk Tech" type of schools here, either; some of the chief executives on board with his idea include those from Duke, Ohio State and Syracuse. And the reason they've launched this idea, called the Amethyst Initiative, is in part because they feel that the higher drinking age has caused an increase in binge drinking on campus. From the group's website:
Twenty-one is not working

A culture of dangerous, clandestine “binge-drinking”—often conducted off-campus—has developed.

Alcohol education that mandates abstinence as the only legal option has not resulted in significant constructive behavioral change among our students.

Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.

By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.

How many times must we relearn the lessons of prohibition?
And of course, MADD is mad about this idea:
Mothers Against Drunk Driving says lowering the drinking age would lead to more fatal car crashes. It accuses the presidents of misrepresenting science and looking for an easy way out of an inconvenient problem. MADD officials are even urging parents to think carefully about the safety of colleges whose presidents have signed on.

"It's very clear the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at those campuses," said Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of MADD.
It sounds like she's all but demanding a boycott, doesn't it?

As I said in a post several years ago, it's hard, in a way, to bash on MADD ("it's like kicking a puppy," I said at the time). It doesn't take much effort to feel bad for the people who've lost kids in drunk-driving crashes, and there's no saying that, if I were in their shoes, I might never touch a drop of the stuff again in my life. But I can't ever see being at the point where I would want to keep others from doing so.

And that's the problem: MADD seems to have morphed over the years into an organization whose members won't rest until nobody drinks alcohol at all. As longtime (but absent for a while now) commenter Gary P. noted after that previous post,
The problem with advocacy groups like this is once they do achieve meaningful goals, they have to keep inventing more and more scenarios to be "outraged" over to keep getting their name in the paper and preserve their relevance and power.
That seems to be an issue with bureaucracies as well: Solutions in search of a problem.

Look, if you want to eliminate drunk driving, punish drunk drivers more harshly. There's no reason to punish entire groups of people for the misdeeds of a few, and there's no reason to engender contempt for the law among those who would otherwise be on the straight-and-narrow. And if lowering the drinking age isn't the solution for you, then raise the voting age (possibly along with the age of consent to marriage and the age of eligibility for military enlistment) back to 21. Either 18-20-year-olds are adults, or they are not; none of this half-and-half business.

UPDATE: More on the subject from edublogger Joanne Jacobs. (A commenter at that site posts a similar idea to mine above, that the age of majority should be consistent; another one notes that if we waited until people were "fully mature" until they were allowed to do things, few people would even be driving before age 30. Heh.)

I wonder if this story hit his campus like a Hurricane: Among the signatories to this initiative (114 at this writing), only one Texas college appears at the moment: West Texas A&M, whose president is named Pat O'Brien. I'm sure he's not related to the founder of this place, but it's still a funny coincidence.

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