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Directions in Highway Safety, Summer 2008 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Summer 2008 | Vol. 10 | No. 4

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New Study Proves 21 Drinking Age Saves Lives

Drunk-driving crashes have been on the decline, and one reason for this is the drinking age. According to a new study conduced by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE), the law that implemented a national uniform drinking age of 21 contributed to a declining percentage of alcohol-related teen traffic deaths. The study notes an 11 percent drop in these traffic deaths. James C. Fell, the study's author, indicates that the 11 percent drop is actually a "conservative" figure.

The study reports the benefits of a common 21-year legal drinking age cannot be disputed. Fell notes, "There has been evidence since the 1980's that an increase in the drinking age to 21 was having an impact on traffic deaths, 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."

During the research by PIRE, factors such as region, economy, improved roadways and changes in the illegal blood alcohol content were controlled so the study could examine the impact of drinking age. Fell stresses that it is not a "good idea" for states to consider lowering the age, saying that both previous studies and his new effort are very clear in their results.

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Another finding of the study suggests that fake IDs are also a contributing factor to teen drunk-driving deaths. According to Fell, "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." The study found a 7 percent drop in teen alcoholrelated fatalities in states that take a strong stance against fake IDs, such as immediately suspending the driver's license of a teen caught with one. If all states began a strong stance on fake IDs, further teen lives could be saved.

The study was published in the July 2008 issue of Accident Analysis and Prevention and should be available online soon at