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Health & Parenting

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Age-21 Drinking Laws Cut Traffic Deaths

Study Shows Minimum Drinking Age of 21 Linked to Fewer Fatal Car Crashes
WebMD Health News

July 2, 2008 -- Tough minimum drinking age laws can curb drunk-driving deaths, according to a new study.

Researchers found that laws making it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to possess or purchase alcohol have led to an 11% drop in alcohol-related fatal car crashes.

In addition, the study shows states with strong laws against the use of fake IDs report 7% fewer drunk-driving deaths among drivers under the age of 21.

"There has been evidence since the 1980s that an increase in the drinking age to 21 was having an impact on traffic deaths," says researcher James C. Fell, MS, of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, in a news release. "But this is the first time we've been able to tease out the real effect, free of the variables that had been used to question the validity of the evidence."

Drinking Laws Prevent Fatal Car Crashes

In the study, published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, researchers examined the impact of two types of laws designed to control the sale, possession, and consumption of alcohol by those under 21 years of age from 1998 to 2005.

First, they looked at the impact of minimum drinking age laws on alcohol-related fatal car crashes. After accounting for other factors, such as improved safety features in cars, better roadways, and tougher adult drunk-driving laws -- which have also been linked to a reduction in drunk driving deaths -- the researchers found minimum drinking age laws were associated with an 11% decline in fatal alcohol-related crashes involving youths.

Second, they looked at the effect of tougher sanctions against the use of fake IDs designed to circumvent the minimum drinking age laws. Fell says the results show these sanctions may represent the second-best legislative tool that states have to combat drunk-driving deaths.

"States that merely confiscate a fake ID, or just give a slap on the wrist to the user, are passing up a significant opportunity to save lives," says Fell. "We found a 7% drop in youth alcohol-related fatalities in states that are willing to take strong actions, such as automatically suspending the driver's license of a young person caught with a fake ID."

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