Should California Reconsider Its Legal Drinking Age?

  • Mike Males Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, San Francisco, California


The recent call by 120 American college presidents for reassessment of the legal drinking age of 21 occurs as earlier studies prove to be increasingly limited and outdated. This study tests drinking age effects during the 1975-2005 period using Incidence Rate Ratio analysis of fatal traffic accident and violent death trends among persons ages 16-17, 18-20, and 21-24, as states with lower drinking ages at the time later raised their age limits to 21. Corresponding trends among ages 25-44 and in states that maintained constant drinking ages of 21 were used as control series. The 10 states that maintained “graduated drinking ages” of 18 for beer and/or wine displayed significantly lower violent death incidences among young people than did states with drinking ages for all alcoholic beverages of 18, 19, 20, or 21. This secondary data analysis suggests that California could reduce violent deaths, especially from homicides and motor vehicles, among 18-20-year-olds by approximately 9%, with similar benefits for 16-17- and 21-24-year-olds, if the legal drinking age for beer and wine was reduced to 18 and a controlled system of low-alcohol bars was initiated.
How to Cite
Males, M. (2008). Should California Reconsider Its Legal Drinking Age?. Californian Journal of Health Promotion, 6(2), 1-11.