April 13, 2005


Vermont Considers Lowering Drinking Age to 18 (PAM BELLUCK, 4/13/05, NY Times)

Last fall, Richard C. Marron, a Republican state representative, was reading a newspaper column by the recently retired president of Middlebury College, John M. McCardell Jr.

One of Mr. McCardell's targets was the drinking age, which in Vermont, and every other state, is 21.

"The 21-year-old drinking age is bad social policy and terrible law," Mr. McCardell wrote, saying it had led to binge drinking by teenagers. "Our latter-day prohibitionists have driven drinking behind closed doors and underground."

Mr. Marron, a four-term legislator who is vice chairman of the appropriations committee, decided that the law needed changing, and he has introduced a bill to lower the drinking age to 18, setting off a debate about public safety, age discrimination and the rights of young people as well as whether it is possible to teach teenagers to drink responsibly.

The solution to the problem of kids drinking and driving was so obvious it was ignored--keep the drinking age at 18 but don't let kids drive until their 21. Behind the wheel they're menaces even sober.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 13, 2005 6:45 PM

Raising it ALMOST made sense in the day's of easily forged Driver's Liscenses and lax enforcement of bars selling alcohol to minors, but today, when the IDs are much harder to forge and the penalties for selling to minors are draconian, there's no reason to deny alcohol to responsible citizens who are considered adults by law in every other way just to make it harder for teenagers to get the stuff.

One comedian once pointed out that it was odd that the drinking age was higher than the voting age, because after looking at the choices on a ballot these days, you need a drink.

Posted by: MarkD at April 13, 2005 7:06 PM


Voting age should certainly be raised too.

Posted by: oj at April 13, 2005 7:18 PM

Driving should be a right, not a privilege subject to licensing. It is simply impossible for people to live in much of the nation without the legal ability to drive a car. The zoning of most of American suburbia is based on the assumption that the residents can drive. Sufficient public transport, as exists in much of Europe, would be prohibitively expensive and nightmarish to organize.

If we're so concerned about drunk driving as a criminal issue rather than as merely another way for the government to pick our pockets, merely make the institution of sobriety locks mandatory and if people blow more than a 0.05, they can't turn the ignition. The mandatory institution of such locks has been very successful in New Mexico, dramatically reducing the number of accidents and arrests.

Posted by: bart at April 13, 2005 7:27 PM

With the elected officials Vermont's been sending to Washington, I thought ... nah, this is too easy.

Posted by: John at April 13, 2005 8:35 PM

A few years ago in one of his columns, William F. Buckley relayed a comment he had heard to the effect that a few decades ago two movements attracted the country's attention simultaneously: one to raise the drinking age to 21, another to lower the voting age to 18 (I'll briefly note that the latter reform made it possible for me to proudly cast my first vote for George W. Bush).

Not that I necessarily endorse a change, but I wouldn't mind if we went back to the old way of doing things: drinking age 18, voting age 21. I guess that makes me a conservative.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 13, 2005 10:00 PM

Actually, didn't a lot of states lower their drinking ages in the late '60s/early 70's, only to to be forced to raise them back up to 21 to get highway money from the Feds in the late '80/early '90s?

When I was in high school in northern Indiana, "going to Michigan" had an exact meaning— someone was going for beer. (And because Michigan had a deposit law even back then, you had to return the empties back to your host, or you wouldn't be invited again

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 13, 2005 11:52 PM

And I thought the mandatory locks in New Mexico were only for those convicted of drunk driving, as a prerequisite for getting their license back, not for everyone.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 13, 2005 11:55 PM

"My pain and my distress,
I find it is not easy to express;
My amazement -- my surprise--
You may learn from the expression of my eyes!"

I think we need sobriety locks in the voting booths.

Posted by: Governor Breck at April 14, 2005 6:23 AM


Currently they are but they have had a dramatic impact on the accident rate, which is the one that really matters, resulting in lower car insurance payments across the board. The institution of a mandatory sobriety lock for all vehicles, set at a rate well below the current legal intoxication limit, would be of benefit to everyone, at a relatively slight cost.

Sure, some people would figure out ways to evade the system but how many would bother?

As for voting, once you file a tax return you get to vote regardless of age.

Posted by: bart at April 14, 2005 9:00 AM

Bart: Good conservative policy. Treat innocent people as criminals.

Posted by: Bob at April 14, 2005 9:51 AM

Bart: Another thing. Why set the machines below the limit? If its is .008, then you can legally drive up to that limit without getting a per se violation.

Posted by: Bob at April 14, 2005 9:52 AM

Bart: Another thing. Why set the machines below the limit? If it is .008, then you can legally drive up to that limit without getting a per se violation.

Posted by: Bob at April 14, 2005 9:54 AM


Every single study of the matter puts the point at which the average driver becomes significantly impaired at around 0.04. The decision to peg it at .08 or .10 or some other arbitrary number is as a sop to the tavern and restaurant industry. If you and your wife are of average size, you go out to a restaurant for dinner and order a cocktail before dinner for each of you, and then split a bottle of wine with dinner and finish dinner in an average amount of time, you will be above .04 BAC. IOW, normal behavior during a dinner out causes one to be a potential danger on the road. The purpose of this is not to create new ways to tax, ticket and criminalize people, but is instead to cut down on accidents and injury in as non-intrusive a manner as possible.

Conservative? The lock costs $100 or so. The savings on the insurance bill alone per year would be significantly above that for most drivers. Those people who tamper with the lock so they can drive while loaded should then have the book thrown at them, because they would have made a conscious choice to endanger others. We live lives with lots of minor inconveniences. Given the choice between the current system which amounts to little more than full employment for the Clancy Wiggums of suburbia and revenue enhancement for rinky-dink municipalities and a minor inconvenience which would save every driver money on insurance, and every taxpayer money on what passes for law enforcement, wouldn't the minor inconvenience be more sensible?

Posted by: bart at April 14, 2005 10:28 AM

Sorry for the double post.

Posted by: Bob at April 14, 2005 11:06 AM

I agree. Assume people are criminals who have to prove their innocence (with rigged instruments) before they can drive. Great policy.

Any other instances where you think we should impose similar assumptions that everyone is a criminal unless proven otherwise? Isn't that an attitude more associated with the French and with Leftists?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 14, 2005 12:45 PM

If you aren't guilty the car starts--what's the big deal?

Posted by: oj at April 14, 2005 12:56 PM


Assume people are criminals? The car isn't sending some weird alarm to the pigs if you fail the sobriety test. All it is doing is not letting you move a dangerous instrumentality if you are not in a condition to do so in a safe manner. This is no different from the annoying voice telling you to fasten the seat belt.

Given the existence of a real problem, i.e. the fact that inebriated drivers are a danger to themselves and others on the roads and on their own may not be capable of making an informed judgment as to whether they should be driving, of all the possible solutions, the sobriety lock is infinitely the least intrusive. On a summer evening, you will encounter more checkpoints along a NJ highway heading away from the shore than you will on Baghdad's Highway of Death. Around 20% of all NJ drivers have at least one DWI with the concomitant impact on insurance rates. Who benefits? The State and its enforcement apparatus. Every rinky-dink little bump in the road hamlet in this nation has a Drunk-O-Meter to nail impaired drivers. It's not about law enforcement and it's certainly not about safe roads, but is instead all about revenue enhancement. In NYC and in NJ they can confiscate your car and sell it.

Is it an imposition? Yes, but no more of one than a ban on Swiss Army knives on commercial planes.

Posted by: bart at April 14, 2005 3:12 PM

"If you aren't guilty the car starts--what's the big deal?"

Then I suppose you support smart guns as well?

Posted by: David Reeves at April 14, 2005 4:40 PM

Mr. Reeves:

Absolutely. They're a no-brainer.

Posted by: oj at April 14, 2005 4:50 PM

Bart: "This is no different from the annoying voice telling you to fasten the seat belt" Except that it's not an alarm, it won't let the car start.

"you will encounter more checkpoints along a NJ highway"

Ban checkpoints. The Supreme Court did one of its largest screw ups ever when it upheld them. If any police action violates the constitution, it is these check points. A short step to "your papers please".

OJ: "Guilty" Of what? What jury or judge has ruled you guilty of anything? How is it different than letting the police enter your house without a warrant whenever they want?

Posted by: Bob at April 14, 2005 5:39 PM


The state doesn't license you to live in a house. It does to drive a car.

Posted by: oj at April 14, 2005 7:16 PM

I am in favor of lowering the drinking age -- although I would prefer 16. I am also infavor of raising the voting and majority ages back to 21. I am opposed to the mechanical nannies and lower drunk percentages.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 14, 2005 10:35 PM


I live in the world of the possible. The Supreme Court ain't banning checkpoints and the States and the rinky-dink municipalities aren't dumping them anytime soon.


Given a choice between a 'mechanical nanny' and relying on Clancy Wiggum to operate a breathalyzer correctly, I'll take the mechanical nanny.

Posted by: bart at April 14, 2005 10:43 PM