An on going debate in New Zealand about what the drinking age should be has flared up again. Renewed calls from paramedics and others suggesting that the drinking age is too low have surfaced after a spate of incidents. But as we shall see, they ignore a problem that is as old as the existence of a legal drinking age.
The calls are coming after a Coroner suggested that the age should be raised back to 20 years, where it was up to the end of 1999.
This ignores an age old issue that was true even when I was at high school in 1999. Teenagers see alcohol as cool and until and unless that perception changes, minors will continue trying to find ways to get alcohol. They will get older family members or friends who are of legal age to do it for them. They will continue trying to slip into bars and night clubs that are not permitted to have them on their premises. These social pressures and dares are just quite simply something that happens. I was offered alcohol by mates when I was under age. I went to parties where there was alcohol present – I did not drink any except under parental supervision because my hypertension means I am on medication, which at the time I was concerned would react badly with it.
When I went to my Year 13 high school ball I had drinks at a mates place, along with about 14 others who were also going. Then the age to be consuming alcohol was still 20.
There are other things that can be done which would be more effective (all of which I have argued the case for in prior articles):
- Removing alcohol from supermarkets and restricting it to alcohol stores and licenced cafes, bars and restaurants
- Removing advertising from the media – can only be displayed on premises
- Tighten the penalties for non compliance
Of the sad case of Matthew Kyte who drove drunk on a regular basis, just like the man who was recently in court for his 12th drunk driving charge and who had killed 4 people, here is a guy who should have had his licence permanently revoked. The Police said of the case that Mr Kyte would have been potentially charged with murder had he hit two people who he narrowly missed on his last drunken drive.
Intoxicated crowds also seem to be becoming a problem at accidents. In the last few years there have been numerous instances of police, paramedics and fire fighters being abused by drunken crowds at parties where things have gone wrong. Some of the cases have involved violence, whilst others have involved items being thrown at the emergency services, who have had to call up Police to deal with the trouble makers.
But none of this will be fixed by changing the drinking age. Ones age is a bit different from ones intelligence quotient, or more specifically here, ones maturity quotient.