Why the US drinking age is 21

Why the US drinking age is 21


“Michael, welcome to the White House.” This is the 40th president of the United States,
Ronald Wilson Reagan, and Michael Joseph Jackson. 1984 Michael Jackson. “For Michael Jackson brings a thrill a minute
to his millions of fan.” “We have quite a few young folks in the
White House who all wanted me to give you the same message – they said to tell Michael,
please give some TLC to the PYTs.” So this is not just a footnote in history. It actually connects, in a weird way, to the
reason that you have to be 21 in every state in the United States to buy alcohol. I’ll show you. States determine their own minimum legal drinking
ages, and in 1975, they looked like this. All these blue states are at 18. All these green ones are 19. Delaware’s yellow, alone at 20. These orange ones are 21, but with allowances
for lower alcohol levels in stuff like beer and wine. And these red ones are the 21 and older states. It’s a complicated map. Now look at the map today. It’s all 21
How did that change happen? This story takes you to a political crossroads,
and the Supreme Court, and, in a weird way, to Michael Jackson shaking hands next to the
president, while dressed like this. But the drinking age change is ultimately
a story…about roads. Prohibition, the 18th amendment to the US
Constitution, banned alcohol in 1920. It was repealed by the 21st amendment — and
after that, a lot of states settled on a drinking age of 21 and older. See the red here, in the late 60s? Those are all 21 and older states. In the 70s, the 26th amendment changed the
dynamic again. “That amendment, as you know, provides for
the right to vote of all of our young people between 18 and 21, 11 million new voters as
a result of this amendment.” 18 year olds could be drafted to Vietnam and
vote, so a lot of states decided they could drink. That map was short lived for one reason. “And here comes
the President.” “Nearly 50,000 people were killed on our
highways last year. Now out of that statistic comes an even more
chilling one. Drunk drivers were involved in 25,000 of those
fatalities, in addition to 750,000 injuries a year.” Drinking age reform advocates quickly attributed
drunk driving fatalities in the blue states, or 18 and older states, to earlier drinking
ages. People argued that teens driving across state
lines to drink or purchase alcohol increased drunk driving. This 1983 map was still a hodgepodge, but
see how more states turned green — for 19 — and yellow — for 20 years old? That was driven partly by an awareness campaign. “Thank you very much, Mr. President.” Michael Jackson? He was being honored for letting his music
be used in anti-drunk driving PSAs. “You’re as good as dead.” But tactics weren’t limited to PR. President Reagan is famous for saying: “The
nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government
and I’m here to help.’” That made his strategy kind of surprising. “For even though drunk driving is a problem
nation-wide, it can only be solved at the state and local level. Yet the Federal Government also has a role
to play.” His thinking was influenced by two main groups. “Much of the credit for focusing public
attention goes to the grassroots campaign of organizations like MADD, Mothers Against
Drunk Drivers, and RID, Remove Intoxicated Drivers.” Candace “Candy” Lightner founded MADD
in 1980 after her daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver. MADD’s goals at the time included making
it easier to obtain DUI convictions… and raising the drinking age. This direction was clear at River Dell High
School in Oradell, New Jersey, where President Reagan explained his unpredictable political
evolution. The problem:
“I appointed a Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving. They told us that alcohol related automobile
accidents are the leading cause of teenage deaths in this country.” The theory:
“In states in which the drinking age has been raised, teenage drinking fatalities have
gone down significantly. Here in New Jersey, you raised the drinking
age to 21 in 1983, and you know what happened: you had a 26% reduction in nighttime single
vehicle fatalities among 19 and 20 year olds in the first year alone.” The dilemma:
“I was delighted again because I hoped that the states would, as they should, take this
action themselves without federal orders or interference.” “It’s led to a kind of crazy quilt of
different state drinking laws, and that’s led to what’s been called blood borders,
with teenagers leaving their home to go the nearest state with a lower drinking age.” And here? This is where the roads come in. The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 created
a network of roads largely funded by Federal dollars. Those roads quickly became crucial to state
economies. That money also became a way to bend the states
to Federal priorities, even if it meant Reagan had to change his typical political positions. “I’ve decided to support legislation to
withhold 5% of a state’s highway funds if it does not enact the 21-year-old drinking
age. Some may feel that my decision is at odds
with my philosophical viewpoint that state problems should involve state solutions, and
it isn’t up to a big and overwhelming government in Washington to tell the states what to do. And you’re partly right. Beyond that, there are some special cases
in which overwhelming need can be dealt with by prudent and limited federal action.” The law passed. That’s Candy Lightner, celebrating. “I’d like to make you an honorary mother
against drunk drivers.” It wasn’t technically a nationwide drinking
age law, but in effect — it was. “We have no misgiving about this judicious
use of Federal power.” States quickly adopted the 21-year-old drinking
age. Most couldn’t afford to lose federal funding
for their highways. Louisiana was the only state that held out
at age 18 (due to a loophole, which it closed in the mid 90s). South Dakota challenged the law to preserve
sale of low alcohol beer for 19 year olds and up, and it reached the Supreme Court. “You may proceed whenever you’re ready.” “Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the
court, the issue in this case is whether or not Congress may condition the receipt of
highway funds upon a state having in effect 21-year-old drinking age.” The court ruled 7-2, stating it was within
Congress’s powers to control spending that promoted “general welfare,” argued as
the reduction of youth drinking and driving via the 21-year-old drinking age. Did it work? Most studies of studies declare “case closed”
— that the higher drinking age saves lives, and “reduces alcohol consumption.” Skeptics, like people from the libertarian
Cato Institute, claim a broader cultural change, not a law, should be credited with saving
lives. Reagan himself kind of argued both sides,
saying that, “the new minimum drinking age is working,” but that “my friends, there’s
so much more to do, and it’s not government that can do it.” Politically, Ronald Reagan using Federal purse
strings to strong arm states is…a strange pairing. But beyond the politics, there’s a bigger
message. The Federal government has used other levers
to push states, but to change the drinking age there was one big tool. The thing that changed the country wasn’t
just the lines on states’ edges. It was the ones that run through them. Alright, that’s it for this road trip edition
of Almanac. I’m about to reveal what the theme for the
next edition is gonna be, but first I want to read some comments from the last video
all about Route 66. “People born in the 20th century: the reasons
in this video. 2000s kids: Ka-Chow!” “Kachow!” So many Cars comments. “That warning at 1:00 is basically TLDR;
hey tourists, wild donkeys kick.” Alright, that’s it for this edition of Almanac. In the next one, I’m gonna be looking at
the big ideas that completely changed movies — and had nothing to do with Hollywood.

40 thoughts on “Why the US drinking age is 21

  1. Hey, thanks a lot for watching this Road Trip edition of Almanac. You also really shaped it in a ton of ways.
    Watch the rest of the episodes here: http://bit.ly/2ZzDmkR
    Don't miss them!

  2. Wow a Republican who is willing to go against his conservative idea for the welfare of the American people . refreshing

  3. I remember when they changed the Drinking Age from 18 to 21, it was the saddest day in Highscool! I almost dropped-out as there'd now be no longer any reason to go! All of my friends who were upper-classmen, all had these great parties for Graduation, and I'd be left with nothing! I wanted to STOP drinking by age 21!!!

  4. Wow, all those reforms over legal drinking age and drunk drivers and yet none over mass shooters and gun control.

  5. Funny how they realized different states having different laws meant that someone could drive over to the next state and get alcohol but when their guns are on the line, it's all 'ChIcAgO iS pRoOf GuN lAwS dOn'T wOrK'

  6. Minimum Legal Drinking Age in 190 Countries

    The charts below contain the Minimum Legal Drinking Ages (MLDAs) and related data for 190 independent states recognized by the US State Department as of July 15, 2015. The data were taken from the World Health Organization’s 2014 “Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014,” unless otherwise noted. No drinking age information was available for Djibouti, Lebanon, Marshall Islands, North Korea, or South Sudan, the other five countries listed by the State Department as independent states.

    Of the 190 countries, 61% have a drinking age of 18 or 19 years old. The United States and 11 other countries have an MLDA of 21 years old, the highest MLDA of all the countries where it is legal to drink (although some areas of India have drinking ages as high as 25 and 30 years old). Alcohol is banned in 16 countries, all of them Muslim countries, although some have exceptions for non-Muslims.

    I. Minimum Legal Drinking Ages in 190 Countries (categorized by lowest legal age minimum for any type of alcohol or purchase)

  7. Country On Premise Purchase Age Off Premise Purchase Age Notes
    Afghanistan Total ban Total ban
    Albania 18 18
    Algeria 18 18
    Andorra 18 18
    Angola 18 18
    Antigua and Barbuda 10 10
    Argentina 18 18
    Armenia 18 18
    Australia 18 18
    Austria 16/18 16/18 Alcohol laws vary by state: three states have an age minimum of 16 while six states have a minimum age of 18.
    Azerbaijan 18 18
    Bahamas 18 18
    Bahrain Illegal (18 for non-Muslims) Illegal (18 for non-Muslims) No info provided by WHO. Alcohol is illegal for Muslims, and drinking in public is forbidden. Only certain places are allowed to sell alcohol.
    Bangladesh Total ban Total ban Alcohol is illegal for Muslims and purchase by others is highly restricted. Non-Muslim tourists are allowed to bring two bottles of alcohol for personal use.
    Barbados 18 18 Sources say children ages 10-17 may drink in the presence of a parent or guardian.
    Belarus 18 18
    Belgium 16/18 16/18 On- and off-premise age minimum is 16 for beer and wine/18 for spirits.
    Belize 18 18
    Benin No age minimum No age minimum
    Bhutan 18 18
    Bolivia No age minimum No age minimum The drinking age used to be listed as 18, but the WHO no longer lists any age minimum.
    Bosnia and Herzegovina 18 18
    Botswana 18 18
    Brazil 18 18
    Brunei Darussalam Total ban Total ban Non-Muslim tourists over age 17 may be allowed to import 2 bottles of liquor and 12 cans of beer for personal use.
    Bulgaria 18 18
    Burkina Faso No age minimum No age minimum
    Burundi 18 No age minimum
    Cambodia No age minimum No age minimum
    Cameroon No age minimum No age minimum The WHO lists no drinking age; other sources say 18 on-premise and 21 off-premise.
    Canada 18/19 18/19 18: Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec; 19: British Columbia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Yukon
    Cape Verde 18 18
    Central African Republic 21 15
    Chad 18 18
    Chile 18 18
    China No age minimum No age minimum The WHO lists no drinking age; other sources say a 2006 ban instituted a drinking age of 18 but say it is not enforced.
    Colombia 18 18
    Comoros 18 18
    Congo 16 18 On-premise age minimum is 16 for beer and wine/18 for spirits.
    Costa Rica 18 18
    Côte d’Ivoire 21 21
    Croatia 18 18
    Cuba 18 18
    Cyprus 17 17
    Czech Republic 18 18

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