Love thy neighbor? States that lower drinking age hurt others

June 30, 2008,

States currently considering reducing the drinking age aren't doing their neighbors any favors.

While opponents contend that dropping the minimum legal drinking age from 21 to 18 or 19 will lead to more alcohol-related teen traffic deaths in those affected states, a University of Michigan researcher says that lowering the age requirement will cause fatal crash rates to increase in neighboring states, as well.

New research by U-M economist Joel Slemrod of the Ross School of Business and colleague Michael Lovenheim of Stanford University shows that 18- and 19-year-old drivers who live in another state—but within 25 miles of a state with a lower drinking age—are more likely to be involved in a fatal crash.

"The availability of different policies just across the border—be they lower excise taxes or the legal sale of fireworks—can compromise the impact of a jurisdiction's own policies and cause efficiency costs as consumers pursue the goods," said Slemrod, professor of business economics and public policy.

"In the case of legalized drinking, being able to drink legally across the border has an additional implication for social costs because the act of drinking and then driving home drunk can itself be dangerous, even fatal, both to the cross-border consumers and other unfortunate drivers and pedestrians."

In their study, Slemrod and Lovenheim evaluated the effect of states' different minimum legal drinking ages on alcohol-related traffic deaths since 1977. For the years after 1987, when 21 became the legal drinking age in all 50 states, their analysis focused on states bordering Canada and Mexico.

The researchers found that raising the legal drinking age to 21 has resulted in about 5 percent fewer drunk-driving fatal crashes for 18-year-olds and about 4 percent fewer for 19-year-olds.

However, in counties within 25 miles of a bordering state with a lower minimum drinking age, the likelihood of an 18-year-old being involved in a fatal crash increases 0.5 percent. For 19-year-olds, the rate increase is 0.1 percent.

"While the effects are more muted for 19-year-olds, the results for both 18- and 19-year olds are consistent with teens evading alcohol restrictions by driving to states where they can legally purchase alcohol," said Slemrod, who also notes there is little evidence of a "cross-border" effect on 20-year-olds.

Overall, the researchers say that previous studies have underestimated the total effect of increases in the legal drinking age.

"That unequal restrictions across unmonitored borders can induce the very behaviors the restrictions are meant to eliminate is well documented with respect to cigarettes," Slemrod said. "When the behavior in question is teenage drunk driving, evasion itself can exact a toll in terms of lives."

Source: University of Michigan

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5 / 5 (5) Jun 30, 2008
I may be missing something here, but it seems like the *disparity* in the drinking age is the culprit. Raising all ages to 21 or lowering them to 18 looks like it would produce the same effect. High drinking ages also contribute to the "forbidden fruit" aspect of alcohol consumption and may in themselves be harmful.
5 / 5 (4) Jun 30, 2008
What a waste of money this study was. Why does my insurance cost more for my car if I live farther from work? Because the more time I spend in my car the more likely I am to get into an accident. Drinking increases the odds.

How do we know that less education to youths on the effects of alchol is not the issue, I am sure that education patterns changed after the age was lifted. Why talk to 18 year olds about drunk driving, push it on the 21 year olds. They are the ones who can drink after all.

Did drunk driving deaths among 18 years change in Alberta or Quebec where we can drink at 18?

Do young Americans act more wild in Quebec then in New York? Why the hell should the age matter. If you force people to drive to drink, well then they drive I guess.

IF YOU DRINK DO NOT DRIVE. period, 18 or 21 years old, in Canada, Mexico or boring old Kansas. Common sense, not a nanny state!
5 / 5 (6) Jun 30, 2008
What a delightful notion! People tend to seek out places where they have *more* individual liberty. Fancy that! Who would've thought.... Guess we'll just have to revoke liberties in more places.
4.8 / 5 (4) Jun 30, 2008
In my opinion, minimum drinking age is a short term solution. When a ten-year-old picking up a bottle of wine for mommy doesn't make you blink, teenage binge drinking will never be quite as cool again. But you've got to give it time or you're never going to see it.
5 / 5 (5) Jun 30, 2008
"The researchers found that raising the legal drinking age to 21 has resulted in about 5 percent fewer drunk-driving fatal crashes for 18-year-olds and about 4 percent fewer for 19-year-olds."

There was only a 5% drop in 18yr old DUI deaths; that should tell you about how effective the law is. Doesn't that roughly correlate to 95% of drinking 18r olds didn't stop? Wouldn't you expect at the very least 50% to be a victory for the policy? These laws just make perfectly legal activities into criminal ones claiming it's all about 'our safety'.
4.8 / 5 (4) Jun 30, 2008
Not if the neighboring states lowered their drinking age. They wouldn't have to get in the car to cross the border. Parents wouldn't be held liable for "underage" drinking in their homes. Kids could stay in their neighborhoods and/or local bar scene.
not rated yet Jul 01, 2008
Gen X and after got screwed by these laws (I missed my state's grandfather clause by 3 months). I guess now that we're coming into higher positions, it's time for corrective action. It's not a right, but it has stuck in my craw for about 20 years. Given that, perhaps I should get a hobby....

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