Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) continues to fight the good fight against the law of supply and demand.
MADD was founded in 1980, by real estate agent Sue LeBrun-Green after a business associate’s 13-year-old daughter was tragically killed by a drunk driver. Over the years, MADD has become an extraordinarily powerful lobbying group with offices in Washington, DC and Dallas. In its own promotional materials MADD describes itself as one of America’s “best loved” organizations. The group is best known for advocating the enactment of the “21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age” law by Ronald Reagan in July, 1984. The law made 21 years the minimum legal age for the purchase, possession or transportation of alcoholic beverages.
Before the emergence of MADD, mild drunkenness was generally regarded as a harmless and often amusing human foible. Comedians built routines around the hilarity of being drunk. But over the last quarter century increasingly lower levels of “impairment” have been criminalized. What began as a perfectly reasonable attempt to prevent blindly drunk drivers from running over children has evolved into a self-perpetuating temperance crusade.
Currently MADD advocates for:
* Enactment and rigorous enforcement of criminal laws that aim to prevent adults from supplying alcoholic beverages to persons under the age of 21. MADD organizes “Youth In Action teams” to work with police. Typically underage members of these teams stand outside liquor stores and ask adults to purchase alcoholic beverages for them. Police then arrest those adults who say yes.
* The criminalization of alcohol consumption by minors in private homes.
* More public money for more advertising discouraging people from driving drunk.
* More public money for enforcement of drunk driving laws including check points and special patrols that focus on drunk driving
* Alcohol ignition interlocks. Locks on auto ignitions that cannot be unlocked unless the owner of the vehicle proves he is not “impaired” by blowing into a straw attached to a device that analyses his blood alcohol level.
* Greater “education” about the dangers of drunk driving in public schools.
* And, the establishment of a single Federal agency “to deal with underage drinking issues.”
MADD reckons that their efforts have saved “an estimated 25,509 lives.” According to a statement released by the organization, “in 2006, an estimated 890 lives were saved by minimum drinking age laws.”
An Authority Speaks
Ronald M. Davis, a past president of the American medical Association explains, “A 21 drinking age” saves lives “based on sound scientific evidence that demonstrates the dangers of early alcohol use for children and adolescents. The adolescent brain is a work in progress, marked by significant development in areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory, complex thinking, planning, inhibition and emotional regulation.”
Doctor Davis declines to state whether he has similar reservations about the fitness of 18-year-olds to vote for a president or enlist in the Marine Corps.
As a general rule, pronouncements like these go unchallenged. The way it usually works is, MADD writes a press release and a television anchorwoman reads it. Then the anchorman at the anchorwoman’s side says, “So true.” Then anchorwoman says, “Now, let’s see what our very own Bobby Gomez can tell us about the weather.” And, then the anchorwoman laughs.
Other Authorities Dissent
Late last month, however, a group of 128 college presidents calling themselves the Amethyst Initiative, including the presidents of Duke, Dartmouth, Syracuse, Tufts and Colgate called for national legislation that would lower the drinking age to the same age at which citizens may vote, enlist in the military and enter into legally binding contracts such as high interest student loans.
The group named itself after a widely held belief in classical Greece, that the gemstone amethyst would protect drinkers against drunkenness.
“Twenty-one is not working,” John McCardell a former president of Middlebury College, said on behalf of the group. “A culture of dangerous, clandestine ‘binge drinking’ – often conducted off campus-has developed.”
Richard Brodhead, president of Duke, said in a separate statement that current law, pushes drinking into hiding, heightening its risks, including risks from drunken driving, and it prevents us from addressing drinking with students as an issue of responsible choice.”
David C. Joyce of Ripon College stated, “It is ludicrous that we can send young men and women to war, but they can’t legally drink a beer.”
David Oxtoby of Pomona College argues that, “treating college students as adults will help them to make more responsible decisions.”
What Is really Going On
A recent essay in The Wall Street Journal suggests that these college presidents may have more on their minds than teaching young adults how to drink responsibly. Journal editorial writer Collin Levy argues that college want to lower the drinking age to protect their institutions from lawsuits.
Several precedent setting lawsuits have argued that colleges are responsible when their students get drunk and behave stupidly. MIT settles a suit for $6 million dollars with the family of a student who died from alcohol poisoning. Last year a Yale student filed a $20 million dollar suit against her school after she was sexually assaulted by an allegedly drunken lout. The suit argues that Yale’s supervision of under-aged drinking is inadequate and that that lack of supervision of illegally activity “encourages” it.
MADD Is Shocked, Shocked
“It’s very clear the 21-year-old drinking age will not be enforced at those campuses,” Laura Dean-Mooney, the current national president of MADD, responded. “Parents should think twice before sending their teens to these colleges or any others that have waved the white flag on underage and binge drinking policies.”
Mark Rosenker of the National Transportation Safety Board, agreed. He believes that even discussing this issue invites “a national tragedy” that will “jeopardize the lives of more teens.”
Is MADD Right
An article in Reason Magazine by Jacob Sullum summarizes MADD’s argument as: “A lower drinking age will result in more drinking among 18-to-20-year-olds, which will result in more drunk driving, which will result in more dead teenagers. Therefore, if you favor a lower drinking age, you favor dead teenagers.”
MADD’s core argument has always been that it is irresponsible and should be illegal to disagree with MADD. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington might have disagreed.