To the Editor:
I would like to respond to Mr. David Rourke’s letter to the Warwick Beacon on May 1 titled, “Time to Lower the Drinking Age?” His letter alluded to the arrest of Gov. Chafee’s son, who was charged after he entered a liquor store, put alcohol on the counter but left and said he had no money and would be back after he received a phone call. Gov. Chafee's son and another 18-year-old friend were later stopped and a search by authorities revealed two cases of beer and a bottle of Jagermeister. Mr. Rourke argues that the drinking age should be lowered to age 18, as was the legal age in Rhode Island during the ’70s. He asks, since teenagers can go to war and die for their countries, then why can’t they have a beer? He said that the arrest “saddened” him.
The arrest of Gov. Chafee’s son is a great example as to why the drinking age should remain at age 21! The brain’s frontal lobe, which is in charge of decision making, does not fully mature until the mid 20s – this medical evidence was taken into great consideration when the state and federal governments were trying to determine a feasible drinking age for our country. Lawmakers “met in the middle” and chose the age of 21 because they figured that adults at 21 had enough brain growth so that future damages due to alcohol would be minimized. Since some of the brain’s most crucial development occurs between the ages of 18 to 21, we should be thanking lawmakers that they took this finding into account and for looking out for our well-being when they made this law!
There has been debate in our country about teenagers at 18 being able to sign up to die for their country but not being allowed to drink. This is one of the weakest arguments I have heard about lowering the drinking age to 18. First of all, think of the responsibilities of a 21-year-old versus an 18-year-old. A good deal of “social growth” occurs during that period where someone at the age of 21 has a lot more to lose than someone at 18, right? Oh yeah, alcohol and young kids getting behind a wheel have not been a great mix in our country, have they? I’d much rather have a sober driver, but if I had to choose between two drunks, one aged 18, the other aged 21, I’d probably take the older, more experienced driver and put my fate in their hands rather than someone who hadn’t been driving for too long, like the 18-year-old. Oh, and for those people actually in the military and serving overseas – they have the legal right to drink in other countries with a lower legal drinking age. I see this as a loophole to our standards – but unit commanders have the authority to reset the age to 21, at their discretion. Also, the military is trying to de-glamorize alcohol use among younger service members to promote a healthier lifestyle and higher military bearing. Remember that 18-year-old kid who was behind the wheel of a car? Now imagine him putting rounds down range, or launching a tomahawk while under the influence!
Others argue that lowering the drinking age would reduce the enticement of alcohol so that our teens would not be as experimental at such young ages. I have a sneaky suspicion that kids in the U.S. would push the envelope even farther by trying to get access to alcohol at an even younger age. If you make the legal age 18, kids are going to experiment at 15, etc. Then folks would complain that other countries (like most European countries) foster a drinking culture at a young age, some as young as 13 or 14. Also consider that it is a crime to be intoxicated in public in most of Europe and Asia, and that a DUI will result in jail time, even for the first offense. Oh yeah, if you hit somebody in Japan, and that person is not able to work, you have to pay their current wages for the rest of their life! What do you get for the first DUI in the United States? The judge takes his money, you get a bunch of fees, but you move on. No jail time – and you can probably still get your license back after a reasonable amount of time – not so in other countries. Why is DUI and alcohol related death in young people so common in our country? Other countries understand and enforce the consequences while we keep trying to find exceptions, excuses, whatever it is for our underage kids to “just have one drink” – and now we’ve showed them that it is acceptable because older people allow it to happen.
Even though this letter is a platform to embrace and enforce the drinking age of 21 in Rhode Island and the U.S., let’s keep the facts in mind. Gov. Chafee’s son is going to get a “slap on the wrist” and everyone is going to forget about this in a few months. Our epidemic in alcohol as a killer of young people in our country is not going to end until we start enforcing the standard or giving harsher punishments for even the first-time offenders, especially those who are drinking and driving. I am appalled that there is a double standard being accepted just because the governor’s son was involved. Do you think you would get the same treatment at age 18? The only thing “sad” about the arrest is that nothing more was done about it than enforcing a $500 fine; and that’s only a drop in the bucket for the governor.
San Diego, Calif.