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Drunk Driving and the Amethyst Initiative

In British Columbia the Age of Majority Act in 1970 lowered the age of majority from 21 years to 19 years. Consumption of alcohol by persons under the age of majority—minors—is regulated under the BC Liquor Control and Licensing Act. It does so by creating various offences applying to adults who supply liquor to minors and who permit minors on licensed premises, and to minors who purchase or consume liquor in a licensed establishment.

Restricting minors from accessing alcohol is a matter of public health policy: to promote their physical and mental health and to ensure their safety and the safety of others. Because younger drivers are consistently in the highest risk category, absolute prohibitions against drinking and driving—based on the licensing level and not just age—are part of the graduated licensing program. Nevertheless, many would argue that lowering the age of majority to 19 years and thereby lowering the drinking age to 19 years was retrogressive, especially with respect to traffic safety.
In the United States the “drinking age” is generally 21 years. This restriction is now being subjected to an organized attack by 128 presidents of liberal arts colleges and universities in the United States, who have created a campaign called the “the Amethyst Initiative.” This initiative is promoted by another organization—something called “Choose Responsibility”—with the express political agenda of lowering the drinking age in the name of reducing college binge drinking.
The Amethyst Initiative calls for a reopening of the public debate over the effects of the 21 year drinking age limit [the 21 law]—a consideration of whether the federal “incentive” to encourage states to enact 21 laws encourages or inhibits that debate. It also invites “new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.” Signatories also “pledge ourselves and our institutions to playing a vigorous, constructive role as these critical discussions unfold.”
“Choose Responsibility” favours lowering the drinking age on the grounds that the “21 law” has failed to produce “significant constructive behavioral change among our students” and, in fact, has contributed to the creation of “a culture of dangerous, clandestine “binge-drinking”—often conducted off-campus.” The Amethyst statement adds, “Adults under 21 are deemed capable of voting, signing contracts, serving on juries and enlisting in the military, but are told they are not mature enough to have a beer.” It also notes, “By choosing to use fake IDs, students make ethical compromises that erode respect for the law.”
Criticism of the Amethyst Initiative is being lead by the “Support 21 Coalition” whose members include leading health and safety groups including Mothers Against Drunk Driving. MADD asserts that more than 50 high-quality studies support that the 21 law has saved lives, causes those under the age of 21 to drink less and continue to drink less throughout their 20s. It points to “a perfect storm of affluence, opportunity and tolerance on college campuses” as the cause of college binge drinking and implicitly characterizes the signatories’ support for the “initiative” as a shirking of their responsibilities.

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