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Why is the drinking age 21?

When it comes to drinking alcohol, there are a few laws that just about everyone knows, even if they are not old enough to do so. The first is that if your blood-alcohol level is 0.08 percent or higher, you can get arrested and charged with drunk driving. The second is that you must be 21 years of age or older to consume alcohol in the United States. And third, many states, including California, have zero-tolerance laws that can lead to serious penalties for anyone caught drinking alcohol under the legal drinking age.

But these laws might raise some questions among some of our readers: why is the legal drinking age 21? Who chose that age and are there plans to lower it any time soon?

Most people don’t even realize that the minimum drinking age of 21 was only established 30 years ago when President Reagan signed a bill into law that withheld federal highway funds from states that did not set the minimum drinking age to 21. The reasoning behind the bill was simple: not every state had the same minimum drinking age, which meant that even though it was legal to drink at the age of 18 in one state, in another state with a higher drinking age, a young adult could face charges of underage drinking.

Though statistic show that creating a minimum drinking age did reduce drunk-driving fatalities across the nation, drinking and driving is still a problem. This has led some to question whether the drinking age should be lowered from 21 to 18. Some have argued that by lowering the drinking age and teaching teens and young adults about responsible drinking, we can “reduce the allure of alcohol to those forbidden by law to possess it.”

Whether you’re an advocate for a lower drinking age or feel it should stay where it is, the truth of the matter is that underage drinking may still result in criminal charges. And depending on how lawmakers change existing laws, those penalties might change as well, leading to harsher punishments for those accused of breaking the law.

Source: GALLUP Politics, “Americans Still Oppose Lowering the Drinking Age,” Jeffrey M. Jones, July 24, 2014

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