Americans continue to overwhelmingly reject an ongoing push to lower the legal drinking age from 21 to 18. According to a Nationwide Insurance survey, 72 percent of adults think lowering the drinking age will make alcohol more accessible to kids, and nearly half believe it would increase binge drinking among teens. More than half even
say they are less likely to vote for a state representative who supports lowering the legal limit or send their children to colleges or universities with “party school” reputations.
“Being recognized as a top party school is not a good thing,” said Bill Windsor, associate vice president of safety for Nationwide. “Our survey clearly shows 75 percent of people support greater enforcement of existing underage drinking laws and increased penalties for adults who give alcohol to those under age.”
Nearly eight of 10 adults surveyed believe teenage drinking contributes to drunk driving crashes and higher insurance rates, especially for teen car insurance. In fact, industry figures show alcohol-related crashes cost each U.S. household more than $165 a year in higher insurance premiums. That cost continues to rise, the company said.
“Lowering the drinking age passes this big problem to those in the high school community already dealing with very serious underage drinking issues,” said Laura Dean-Mooney, MADD’s new national president. “Underage drinking is an adult problem and, more specifically, parents play a key role in educating their children well before peer pressure begins.”
Nationwide is partnering with MADD to host a national symposium on binge drinking Nov. 6-7 in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the event is to bring parents to the forefront of the discussion and to explore how they can use their influence to curb underage drinking.
“The need for strong role models is critical if we are to stop this irresponsible behavior,” Dean-Mooney said. “Everyone will benefit if we can save lives, keep everyone safe and lower the monetary impact of such reckless behavior.”
Binge drinking in college becomes top of mind this time of year, as young students get their first taste of independence and high school students return to school, Nationwide said. Drinking games that have increasingly become part of the youth social scene are making the problem of underage college binge drinking worse — and in some cases with deadly results.
“Bouncing a quarter into a cup… Performing a handstand on a keg… Flipping a cup so it lands upright… many teenagers and college freshman often find themselves honing skills that have nothing to do with academics,” Windsor said. “As the school year begins, young people need to be reminded that binge drinking is against the law and bears heavy costs.”
For two decades the legal drinking age in the U.S. has been 21. But during the last 18 months, nine states have entertained the idea of lowering the drinking age minimum and three states have live legislation. Proponents of the lower drinking age say current laws drive teen alcohol use underground.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 7.2 million — or one in five — youth under the age of 21 have engaged in underage binge drinking in the past month, and opponents to lowering the drinking age believe that lowering the drinking age to 18 will only provide greater access to even younger teens.
These underage drinking statistics alarm the parents of college-bound students — and 58 percent of parents said they are less likely to send their children to a known party school. Additionally, 70 percent of parents want colleges to notify them when their child violates the school’s alcohol policies, the survey indicated.
Nationwide’s survey was conducted by telephoning 2,006 American households in April 2008 with Opinion Research Corp. The survey has a +/-2.2 percent margin of error. Binge drinking was defined as having five or more drinks at one occasion.
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