Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Excuse Me Sir, May I See Your License?

Bill Gurstelle, a guest blogger at BoingBoing and author of Absinthe and Flamethrowers, commented on an interview with ex-University of Colorado Chancellor Dr. Roderic Park wherein Dr. Park suggests that maybe we should license those under 21 to drink. From Dr. Park:
There is no reason to assume that people suddenly and magically become mature or wise or thoughtful at any arbitrary age. Nevertheless, in a kind of simplistic hypocrisy, the age of 21 law has become part of our culture's "solution" to the problem of irresponsible drinking. ... Well, it is clear that the minimum drinking age of 21 is not working. ... We should consider establishing a type of "learner's permit" for limited alcohol consumption, similar in concept to the driver's permit. ... One prerequisite for receiving the card would be passing a course on the expectations of responsible use of alcohol, what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable conduct, and the consequences of alcohol abuse.
Mr. Gurstelle agrees:
While it may sound counterintuitive, would it not make sense to lower the drinking age from 21 to 20 or even less, provided the less-than-21-year-old imbiber obtains a separate license for drinking. And in order to get the license, there is a "drinking skills" program to pass. Not how to drink more, but how and why to drink like a mature grown up.
I'm not convinced. It's an idea that seems great on its face. Hey, let's allow people who pass a test have a license to buy alcohol in limited circumstances. Sure. Fine. But, what happens when they turn around and then give (or sell) that alcohol to their unlicensed friends? What's been accomplished? Sure, the seller is liable for sale to a minor, but as a minor themselves, how harsh can that penalty really be? Are you going to be an 18 year old in jail for 30 days for buying his buddy a beer?

I just don't see the point. Besides the inconvenience of having to carry around yet another card, what does it really accomplish? An 18-year old can drink under "monitored" conditions? What's the point? Who wants to party with a "monitor"? Besides, we have "monitored" situations now (e.g., parents buying cases for the high school graduation or what-not) and it doesn't really seem to help. Sure, we might get rid of writing the underage drinking ticket, but it doesn't really address the damage done when the kid drives home or trashes a neighbor's yard on his walk home from the party. Is a 20 question exam really going to provide enough education to teach an 18-year-old not to play mailbox baseball after pounding a couple of 40s? No. You know what provides a deterrent to that? Punishment for the action of playing mailbox baseball and driving drunk.

If we want to eliminate the hassle of writing underage drinking tickets, just stop writing them (i.e., lower the drinking age all-around to 18). Why go through the state administrative overhead of developing, issuing, and grading tests and licenses? Why not move the driving age up to 18 (something that keeps those most at-risk of accidents off the road until they've practiced for a couple of years) and add alcohol-education questions to both temporary and permanent driving license exams? It's a far simpler solution that accomplishes much of the same thing.

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