Drinking - That "Age" Old Problem

Some might revel in their underage drinking exploits, but I suspect UNC-Chapel Hill tennis player Chris Kearney never expected his life to take the detour it looks like it will take. He is accused of driving drunk and striking two UNC-CH seniors on Columbia with his vehicle early Sunday. He posted $50,000 bond today and was released from jail.

While this story is unfolding, (see College presidents seek debate on drinking age) college presidents from about 100 of the nation's best-known universities, including Duke, Dartmouth and Ohio State, are calling on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, saying current laws actually encourage dangerous binge drinking on campus.

I think that we have all heard the arguments presented in the article above. Being in a "college town" we have seen the underage drinking stories involving athletes as well as others without a high profile. We have also seen the debate over the work of Dale Pratt Wilson and her organization that is involved with the teen drinking problem.

Will we as a community get any closer to dealing with this or will we just continue to see more and more of these cases?



I don't think he hit them ON Columbia.

According to the N&O:

Kearney's SUV careened off the road Sunday morning and struck them

 Of all forms of transportation only the private motor car presents this danger.  How about raising the driving age to 21? Or a system that would let one choose  one or the other?


Unfortunately I believe we will see more and more of these cases. It seems like underage drinking in college has been with us for a long time. Even with tough enforcement it will occur and with a high percentage of UNC students living off campus it becomes even harder to enforce. Somehow I think that parents need to teach their kids about drinking (or not) or drinking responsibly (or not) before they get to college since there won't be that source of support once they are there. Even if that were to occur though, teenagers and young adults have that sense of immortality that seems to be associated with those years. Drinking, driving, crazy pranks - in hindsight it all looks so stupid but at the time it can seem so innocuous.

I wouldn't favor lowering the drinking age. I think you need to step up educational campaigns at the colleges, enforcement in the community, and parental involvement before the kids gets to college.

I would contend that being legal at 18 encouraged me to learn to drink responsibly. Idrank socially, in public, often with faculty. (WIne and Cheesers were a staple of the English Department at my University.) I didn't want to get trashed in front of my profs. Alcohol wasn't this big, clandestine thing...it was part of life. Did people still get trashed? Of course they did. But there were usually older adults around to make certain no one REALLY got hurt, and there weren't any legal penalties (real or imagined) that hampered college kids from getting someone who had over-imbibed help.  

All of the above is anecdotal, of course. Surely there is a way to do some sort of epidemiological study comparing and contrasting the number of cases of alcohol poisoning and deaths/ capita back when the drinking age was 18 with the numbers since it's been raised to 21. Of course, then we'd have to have a rational discussion based on facts and figures, not "religion."

And we haven't even begun to discuss why 18 year-olds are considered old enough to vote, marry, fight for their countries, and are subject to adult punishments for crimes (including the death penalty) but aren't old enough to have a beer...





I am completely with Melanie here. I think the absence of opportunities for younger people to learn to drink responsibly is a significant part of the problem. Also drinking moved from campus, where people walk and live on dorm, off campus where people drive with the change in drinking age and continued restrictions of alcohol on campus to accomodate that.


... In which another college sport (and a whole college by association) gets a bad name.  The college leaders who want to lower the drinking age probably want to protect their schools' reputations.  This is misguided thinking.  An 18-year-old drunk driver is no less drunk than a 21-year-old.  The reporting of such incidents doesn't have to include sensationalistic details like UNC Student Athlete to make headlines. 
The problem is that no matter what the drinking age is, people who are just a bit younger than the cutoff will get ahold of alcohol (from older siblings/classmates or whatever).
Then just get rid of the drinking age, period.
Have always wondered what would happen (aside from creating a new bureaucracy) if we licensed drinking the way we license driving.  The opportunity for education and monitoring, as well as revocation for abuse, might be worth it -- regardless of the obvious opportunities for fraud and counterfeiting, etc.  It might make bartenders' life a lot easier.
Opinion, how much of a drinking problem is there in the under 18 crowd?

The Daily Tar Heel today has a story on how this relates to the honor code. The Honor Court has updated the student code to say that a one-semester suspension will be the usual punishment for driving while impaired, a conduct violation that falls under the code.

Mark Schultz writes about this, saying that:

Ty Lawson and UNC basketball fans can be glad the point guard due in court this afternoon wasn't charged with DWI. Lawson faces several charges including driving after consuming alcohol under age, the charge you get if you're under 21 and caught driving with any alcohol in your body.

That puts him under the university's alcohol policy, where violations are handled administratively. If he had been charged with a DWI, his case would likely have gone to the student honor court, where a conviction on DWI or reckless driving charges usually lands a one-semester suspension.

The suspension for driving while impaired has been the honor court's practice.

As of June, it's now codified, or written into the honor code. Students can still get less or more punishment -- the minimum is disciplinary probation for a semester -- but the typical punishment has been and will remain a semester out of school.

In a later story, it's reported that:

North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson pleaded guilty today on a charge of driving after consuming alcohol under age.

Lawson had already completed 26 hours of community service, an alcohol assessment and a four-page report on the impact of drinking and driving as part of a plea agreement.

Prosecutors dismissed a driving while license revoked charge and a noise ordinance violation.

I think Mark C. is right - where ever you draw a line, someone is just under it and may react to the "unfairness" of the line.  Imagine what those unit commanders at Ft. Bragg are dealing with when they return from 15 months of combat and those under 21 can't legally go out and drink a beer.  Does that make any sense?

Fred, you would recall this from first hand, but I believe that is basically why the drinking age for beer was lowered to 18 in many states during the Vietnam War (and for about 10 years thereafter).  Also the 2xth amendment lowered the voting age to match the age at which one could be drafted.

When states started raising the drinking age to 21 in response to federal transporting aid dollars, the DoD still maintained 18 for on-installation alcohol consumption. Pressure on the military resulted in bases having to follow the local laws.  A good summary of the change process and exceptions in recent history is at ttp://usmilitary.about.com/od/justicelawlegislation/a/drinkingage.htm

A Wisconsin state Representative, Mark Pettis has proposed that a two-year pilot program be enacted permitting adults over 18 serving in the active military to consume alcoholic beverages. Lawmakers could then determine if young adults serving in the military are mature enough to drink in moderation legally.

However, if Wisconsin passes the legislation it could lose millions of dollars in federal highway aid. Therefore, the legislator says the bill wouldn’t become law unless the state could get a waiver from the government to protect that aid. Chances are real slim to none, with none in the lead!

I suspect that this debate will rage on.

The 26th Amendment it was.

In relation to an earlier post on DWI, I called the CHPD to see if they would do the breath test on me if I had my wife drive me to their station after I'd had a couple of drinks. Their response was no - not unless I could get an OK from the state somehow.  The officer said their policy is that any blood level over 0 will impair driving, and they wouldn't want someone to think they could drink a certain amount to stay under the legal blood alcohol level, and feel they were OK to drive.

So, in a society that allows alcohol consumption at restaurants with big parking lots, how are kids to begin to learn how to "drink responsibly"? 


We give young people a hard time because we say they don't vote. The reality is that plenty of "old" people don't vote.

We give "underage" people a hard time for not drinking responsibly while plenty of legal drinkers are not "responsible" drinkers.

There are many young people who drink more sensibly than many adults. 

Young people are an easy place to look when we look down our noses. 

The present policy is inconsistent for the reasons everyone has stated. Legislating alcohol and drug use has been a dismal failure in this country. This isn't going to change because the constituency for common sense is not influential enough.

Regardless of laws people are gonna drink the way they drink. As someone who did a lot of underage drinking and not much underage driving I am all for raising the driving age. 

From what I hear a more liberal approach to alcohol (and drugs) in Europe and elsewhere leads to more maturity by young people but I dunno. I do know that any approach that is based on restriction of access is doomed; it just makes people into criminals.

If a professor gets a DWI does he/she lose their job, should they?  

Does anybody know if schools are doing a credible job of giving good information on drinking?


I believe they are...but the kids don't really trust the source.  Seriously, how much credence did you give YOUR HS health teacher? 

I have always held the strong opinion that we should learn to drink before we learn to drive. Not that I have definite ages in mind it just strikes me as backwards.

I'm confused as to how lowering the age to 18 helps with college drinking.

My biggest concern is with drinking and driving. I think the ramifications should be severe. Having said that I don't think any professional should lose their job necessarily but there should certainly be some sort of disciplinary proceedings or probationary period. Do other employers have sanctions for DWIs?

It all depends on the school and the culture of that school.  Alcohol/drug awareness is a matter of discipline and character-building, quite apart from health education.  Any sophomore can get an A in Health without trying.  The schools have to teach a recipe for success, enforcing it throughout the curriculum.  From what I've observed, they're not doing that. 

My 15yo just did driver's ed last year, spent about 2 hours on facts and figures about blood levels and impairment, and had some special activity in her English class in which kids wore special goggles which mimic impairment while driving a small vehicle around the school track. Seems like driver's ed teachers can't really do much more without liability problems. 

Like Catherine says tho, character-building is quite apart from courses that just give out good info. UNC's honor code apparently treats DWIs with suspension. Not clear where character-building fits into a policy like that.


Under The Dome  reports on the position taken by President Bowles. They indicate that

UNC President Erskine Bowles says he won't support a change to laws that set the legal drinking age at 21.

In an Aug. 29 memo to chancellors of UNC system campuses, Bowles said there is evidence the age-21 law really does save lives and reduces alcohol-related injuries and deaths among young people. He cited data from UNC-Chapel Hill's Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, which was named for his father, Skipper Bowles, and created with family money.

"Furthermore, I've seen no scientific evidence that supports the contention that lowering the legal drinking age would reduce binge-drinking or lessen other alcohol-related problems on our college campuses or in society at large," Bowles wrote.

They also say that

Though Bowles does not agree with the movement, known as the Amethyst Initiative, he wrote, the presidents have good intentions. He also suggested UNC chancellors do what they can to strengthen alcohol education programs on their campuses.

Is it really a lack of education or do those under 21 already know what an education program might teach them?  "Shock" programs don't seem to have much of an impact; what will?

One suggestion I've heard is: 19 for voting, draft registration, beer and wine.  That keeps it out of the High Schools and uniform. It's just obsurd for anyone to think that folks are waiting til 21 to start drinking and it encourage lying and disrespect for our legal system.

David Beck


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