National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, DC -- National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker warned today that lowering the drinking age - a suggestion by some academics and officials - jeopardizes highway safety and would increase already unacceptably high teen highway deaths.
Rosenker was responding to a cover story in this weekend's Parade magazine that questioned age 21 drinking laws and quoted academics and others that say they should be repealed.
Rosenker cited data through 2005 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that estimates that nearly 25,000 teen traffic deaths have been prevented by age 21 laws. In 1982, 56 percent of teen drivers killed in traffic crashes had a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit. By 2005, that figure was 23 percent. "Why would we repeal or weaken laws that save lives?" Rosenker asked. "It doesn't make sense."
"Even with these laws alcohol is still the leading cause of death among teenagers in highway crashes. The data show that when teens drink and drive they are highly unlikely to use seat belts. These are the facts and it would be a serious mistake and a national tragedy to weaken existing drinking age laws," Rosenker said.
Instead Rosenker emphasized, "We need stricter enforcement of age 21 laws and early intervention so young people don't develop a life-long problem with alcohol. These measures need to take place in the academic environment as well as in society at large. We all need to take responsibility for our actions."
Rosenker said, "I hope lawmakers and parents will not be persuaded by unsupported arguments like 18 year olds can vote and buy homes so why should laws prohibit them from drinking? The fact is that voting and buying a home doesn't kill you or kill others. And crashes end up costing society billions of dollars in economic losses, not to mention the psychological toll."
Over the past 25 years, the NTSB has issued two sets of age 21 recommendations to the states and now all states have both age 21 laws and zero alcohol tolerance laws for drivers under age 21, an accomplishment that entailed hard work by the NTSB and many other highway safety advocacy organizations.
The NTSB has a long record of advocating highway safety and has issued hundreds of highway safety recommendations. Seven of those recommendations, which dealt with age 21 laws, were on the agency's Most Wanted List and removed because they were accomplished by the States. The recommendations urged States to close age 21 loopholes, increase enforcement and education, impose sanctions and require zero alcohol tolerance.
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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.