A group of 100 college presidents are seeking to reopen the debate on the appropriate time to start drinking alcohol by asking Congress to lower the legal age from 21 to 18.
These higher education leaders aren't relying on the traditional argument that the current age limit blatantly discriminates against adults who are trusted to vote, to sign contracts and to join the military. In fact, a certain irresponsibility among 18- to 20-year-olds has prompted this call to action as underage binge drinking has become a deadly epidemic on college campuses.
These presidents make some sense when they argue that young adults believe they are entitled to imbibe but the legal hurdle prompts many to drink as much alcohol as they can, often far more than is safe, when they do get their hands on some spirits. Rampant binge drinking appears to be a problem of ethos rather than maturity or brain development. Young adults in large parts of Europe who have easy access to alcohol are far more likely to drink in moderation than their American or British counterparts.
There are thoughtful objections to lowering the age limit, such as one raised by Gov. Janet Napolitano last week that such a change would expose more younger teenagers to alcohol as well. Anti-drunken driving advocates are concerned that opening bars and liquor stores to more, younger people would lead to more DUI-related accidents. But only the incredibly nay��� are unaware that high school students still are frequently using and abusing alcohol, despite enforcement of the higher age limit for more than two decades.
Americans need to build a stronger cultural connection between alcohol and responsible adult behavior to discourage drinking to excess. So far, Congress' arbitrary age limit appears to have done little good in reaching toward that goal, and possibly could be doing more harm.