Drinking is a popular activity for America’s youth despite having the highest drinking age in the entire world at 21. However, many states have exceptions to the rule. Situations in which it is legal for a person under the age of 21 to consume alcohol include:
- Being under parental supervision.
- Religious ceremonies and customs.
- Health or medical purposes as prescribed by a physician.
- Drinking with a spouse who is of legal age.
Still, many people support lowering the national drinking age. The hope is that by allowing young people to drink alcohol at the age of 18, they will be more likely to develop healthy attitudes towards alcohol and consume it more responsibly. Nevertheless, in a recent Gallup poll, 77% of Americans over the age of 21 support the present drinking age. Current legislation declares that any state that lowers its drinking age loses 10% of its federal highway funding.
In 2007, 62% of students in the eighth grade reported that it is very easy or fairly easy to obtain alcohol. Additionally, the average age at which a person first uses alcohol has been decreasing since 1965.
Underage drinking has been linked to risky behavior, such as driving under the influence. In fact, in 2002, 3% of Americans aged 18 to 20 said that they had driven while under the effects of alcohol.
Underage drinking is very prevalent on college campuses, but it is difficult to know exactly how much alcohol students consume and the results of the consumption because it is primarily done behind closed doors. A common practice among college students is what is called “pre-gaming” or “pre-partying.” These terms refer to the consumption of alcohol before going out, usually in large amounts and very quickly.
In many states, a zero tolerance law applies to underage drinking. This means that it is illegal for people under the legal age to drive with a blood alcohol content level of anything but 0.0%. Currently, 46 states have lower BAC levels for younger drivers. Additionally, 44 states have set their illegal BAC levels for drivers under 21 to 0.02% and higher in order to allow for variation in alcohol testing instruments.
As part of the zero tolerance law, police officers have the right to require a breath test from drivers under the age of 21 if the officer has reason to believe that the driver is under the influence of alcohol. Drivers who refuse to submit to such a test or who register an illegal BAC level are subject to legal consequences, such as losing their driver’s licenses.