September 15, 2008

Florida Colleges Consider Legal Alcohol for “Under 21″

If you are a parent planning to send your child to a Florida college or university, you should know that two of those approximately 80 colleges, universities and trade schools appear to believe that even their freshmen ... those 18 years of age, only one short summer vacation beyond high school ... should have unrestricted, legal access to alcohol. Florida's Eckerd College and Saint Leo University are those two colleges and have signed on to an initiative that wants us all to consider lowering the legal drinking age to 18. These two schools have joined with a small number of other colleges and universities across the nation to promote this idea as "reasonable" and worth considering. (Google: Amethyst Initiative) The idea of 18 to 20 year olds having ready and legal access to alcohol has already been tried, with devastating results. Wisconsin, Michigan, and Massachusetts all lowered their drinking ages back in the 80s and 90s, ultimately returning them to 21 when the death and injury numbers for alcohol-related traffic crashes for these youngsters documented a deadly and significant increase. New Zealand has also gone through the same painful exercise, at the cost of many lives and untold injuries. A recent study by Nationwide Insurance reveals that 78% of adults do not support lowering the drinking age to 18 and more than half say they are less likely to vote for a state representative who supports lowering the drinking age.

I am addressing this current issue not only because of my present, full-time position as Executive Director of MADD Florida, although my position does permit ready access to some frightening data; but rather, I am writing mostly as a concerned father, uncle, grandfather, neighbor and citizen of this planet.

Every single study ... and there have been dozens ... reviewing the use of alcohol by young people between the ages of 18 and 20, has documented clear statistical evidence of more alcohol-related automobile crashes, increased alcohol dependency, more unplanned pregnancies, more domestic violence, more DUI arrests, more deaths and more injuries ... every single study by numerous resources! (See or Further, lowered drinking ages also adversely affect teenagers in the 14-17 age group as their older friends tend to expose them to alcohol use at an earlier age.

MADD shares the legitimate concerns of college administrators as campuses across the nation struggle with the increasing instances of underage drinking, binge drinking and alcohol-related health, social and legal issues among young students. These problems do not start on college campuses. Many young persons arrive on campus having already experienced alcohol in high school and middle school. The College Alcohol Study by the Harvard School of Public Health has recently determined that it is the campus culture and the tolerance for such activities that most greatly influence underage and binge drinking; not the legal drinking age.

One can certainly understand the frustration of the Administrators of Eckerd College and Saint Leo University and the others participating in this dreadful appeal. They are watching this problem only get worse and are increasingly held accountable for the destructive consequences. Abandoning laws that protect our youth and the community at-large is no answer and frankly, is a terrible idea. There are people who break every law on the books. Our enormous prison population is proof of that, and yet we don't throw up our hands, revoke the laws that protect our safety and security, and surrender. Rather, we work toward greater compliance and enforcement while we move toward social change.

Colleges need to work cooperatively with parents, law enforcement officials, local alcohol retailers, clubs and other community partners to seek and implement solutions whose process will not place additional risks on our kids and our community. MADD Florida is calling upon presidents Donald Eastman of Eckerd College and Arthur Kirk of Saint Leo University to remove their names from the Amethyst Initiative and work locally with other community resources to seek solutions that will address these problems at their schools and in our state.

These are good men facing tough challenges. This is not their problem. This is our problem. However, until these two college presidents seek a different strategy, my grandkids, nieces and nephews, and those friends, neighbors and associates with whom I may have some influence, will now have 2 fewer Florida schools to consider as they look toward college enrollment for those young students in their lives.

Don Murray is the Florida State Executive Director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Mr. Murray may be reached at (813) 935-2676 during normal business hours.