Redistributing Alcohol-Related Deaths in Traffic Crashes

The age 21 alcohol hasn’t save lives of young people in traffic crashes. It’s only redistributing alcohol-related deaths. Here’s why.

Many claim that raising the drinking age to 21 in the US has improved safety. They say it’s reduced alcohol-related traffic deaths among young people. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that thousands of lives have been saved by the age 21 law.

But the law hasn’t saved any lives at all. Instead, it has shifted alcohol-related deaths. It’s from those 18-20 to those 21-24. That is, it’s simply been redistributing alcohol-related deaths!


redistributing alcohol-related deathsResearchers at the Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University found this shift long ago. Their research was federally-funded. They found that drinking experience, not drinking age, is the most important factor.1

Another study then examined the effects of different traffic safety measures. These included speed limits, seat belt laws, alcohol policies, etc. It did so over time on different age groups.

The researchers found raising the drinking age was linked with a reduced of 5% among 18-20 year-olds. But it was at the expense of an 8% increase among 21-23 year-olds.

They concluded the following.  “[P]olicies which keep teens away from alcohol may to some degree simply shift the attendant mortality risks to young adulthood.” Also, “the magnitude of the mortality redistribution” is “quite large.” 2


Dr. Mike A. Males said it best. “The bottom line is that raising the drinking age to 21 did not improve a young person’s odds of avoiding fatal alcohol mishap before age 25.”3

The popular idea that delaying drinking by young people appears highly questionable. As researchers at the Center of Alcohol Studies found, drinking experience reduces traffic fatalities.

This suggests that young people should learn to drink in moderation before learning to drive. Inexperienced drinking combined with inexperienced driving is a highly dangerous mix.

A Traditional Idea

This isn’t a strange idea. Many groups teach their children how to drink in moderation at a young age. And they have few drinking-related problems. They include Italians, Jews, Spaniards, Portuguese and many others.

What’s a strange idea is imposing a minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) of 21. That’s the highest national MLDA in the world!

To believe that MLDA of 21 is effective is to ignore the facts. And to live in a fantasy world.

Redistributing Alcohol-Related Deaths in Traffic Crashes


1. Asch, P., and Levy, D. Does the minimum drinking age affect traffic fatalities? J Pol Anal Manag, 6, 180-192.

2. Dee, T., and Evans, W. Policies and teen traffic safety. Am Econ J, 91(2), 91-96.

3. Males, M. Pers. comm.

    • This is based on pers. comm. from Dr. Mike Males. He’s at the UC at Santa Cruz.
    • This site gives no advice.