Pennsylvania drinking age still 21

(U-WIRE) PITTSBURGH – The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is not forced to set the drinking age at 21.

That’s right – if any state government wanted to do so, it could lower the drinking age.

Of course, the state would lose its federal highway funding if it lowered the minimum, but the regulation is not mandatory.

The 20th anniversary of the change of the national drinking age to 21 was July 17, 2004. Before the minimum was passed in 1984, states were allowed to set their own drinking ages, with some as low as 18 years for certain alcoholic proofs.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving records from 1982, 43 percent – 4,393 – of drivers under the age of 21 who were involved in fatal car accidents were drinking before their crashes. This had significantly changed by 1998, when only 21 percent – 1,714 – of drivers younger than 21 involved in fatal car crashes had been drinking alcohol.

Also according to MADD, there were more than 8,000 deaths related to underage drinking in 1982. By 2002, this number had dropped by 25 percent, to more than 6,000 deaths resulting from underage drinking.

“We know for a fact – that data has been collected – that the drinking age saves over 900 young lives each year, which is enough to fill two public high schools,” said Rebecca Shaver, the state executive director for MADD Pennsylvania. “The earlier kids start drinking, the more likely they are to become dependent upon it. Excessive drinking leads to other types of violence, such as unwanted pregnancy, unprotected sex and STDs.”

According to research at the Center of Alcohol Studies, at Rutgers University, raising the drinking age to 21 increased drinking-induced fatalities in the 21 to 24 age group, by about as much as it lowered fatalities for those aged 18-20. The study researchers suggested that a person’s amount of drinking experience, not the age of the person drinking, played the most important factor in alcohol fatalities.

Mike A. Males, from the University of California, agreed with the conclusion of the study.

-Laura Jerpi