Vice Squad
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
New Zealand's Lower Drinking Age

The de facto national drinking age of 21 in the US is, in my opinion, too high. I would probably support a reduction in the minimum drinking age to 19, or perhaps a two-tiered age, with beer and wine available at 18 or 19 and spirits available at 21. But I recognize that any change along these lines would require great care, particularly in trying to keep teenagers from driving while impaired. The adoption of 21 as the minimum drinking age did result in fewer drunk-driving deaths and injuries. (And in many other ways I think that alcohol could be more closely regulated in the US, and taxed more heavily.)

In 1999, New Zealand (which like the US, UK, and many other countries, has a problem with binge drinking by younger imbibers) lowered its drinking age from 20 to 18. On Monday, the Justice Ministry issued a report on the change: "It found that:

* There has been no increase in the number of 16 and 17-year-olds drinking alcohol since 1999 but they are drinking larger volumes and more often.

* The number of 18 and 19-year-olds drinking increased slightly, and the average amount drunk on each occasion rose from five to seven drinks.

* The number of under 18-year-olds apprehended by police for drinking in public jumped from 834 in 1994 to 2597 in 2002.

* There has been a slight rise in under 18-year-old drunk drivers since 1999.

* Apprehensions of under 18-year-olds in bars have decreased since 1999, as has the number of minors apprehended buying alcohol from off-licence premises."

It is heartening to see that the lowering of the drinking age was accomplished without a rise in the number of 16 and 17 year olds drinking, though less happy is the increased consumption of those who do imbibe. It looks as if a better job could have been done in implementing the reform on combating drunk driving and binge drinking.

Here's the newspaper article that the quoted material is taken from; here's the Justice Ministry report.

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