The effect of raising the legal minimum drinking age on involvement in fatal crashes

Williams, Allan F. / Zador, Paul L. / Harris, Sandra S. / Karpf, Ronald S.
Journal of Legal Studies
January 1983

In the early 1970s, more than half of the states in the United States lowered their legal minimum ages—in most cases from twenty-one to eighteen—for the purchase of some or all alcoholic beverages. Research indicated that this legislation resulted in increased involvement of young drivers in crashes. In a study of various states and Canadian provinces that reduced the drinking age from twenty-one to eighteen, significant increases were shown in fatal crashes—particularly in nighttime and single vehicle crashes in which alcohol is most often involved—involving driver under twenty-one, compared with adjacent areas that did not reduce their drinking ages. These increases occurred not only among eighteen- to twenty-year-olds, who were directly affected by law changes, but also among fifteen- to seventeen-year-olds. As a result of these findings and other reports of growing problems related to teenage drivers and alcohol, many states that had lowered their legal minimum drinking ages in the early 1970s began in 1976 to raise them. By the end of 1980, fourteen of the thirty states that had lowered their drinking ages for the purchase of some or all alcoholic beverages had raised them, although not necessarily back to the original limits. In this paper, a study of the effect of raising the drinking age on fatal crashes involving teenage drivers is reported.
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