Over at Atrios, Duncan points out that the 1984 law which compelled states to raise their drinking age to 21 has probably not actually caused the decline in teen drunk driving deaths -- though there has been a decline, it's probably a post hoc connection.
It is true that teen drunk driving fatalties have fallen significantly since the law was passed in 1984, but it's also the case that all drunk driving fatalities have fallen then due a combination of various factors including cultural change, education, enforcement, etc. Since the law was passed (I'm not sure how quickly every state changed their laws), teen drunk driving fatalties fell from about 3600 in 1984 to 1536 in 2004 (.pdf) , about a 57% decline.Over that same period all drunk driving fatalties fell from about 82,000 to 44,000, a 46% drop. (.pdf link)So, yes, over that time period teen fatalties have decreased by a bit more than for that of the general population, but not by all that much
In other words, at a glance the law doesn't seemed to have improved things all that much over and above over what has been achieved through a general increase in societal hostility to drunk driving.
Then he mentions an interesting idea:
As a sort of compromise I'd propose the option for the under-21 crowd to choose between a drinking license and a driving license. You couldn't have both until you become 21. We could figure out if this was a one time choice irreversible choice or if switching were possible, and there are some other logistical issues, but it would seem to make sense.Also it would help to achieve a better policy goal which is reducing the amount of teen driving.
I like this notion, mainly because in the parts of the country I've spent most of my time living in -- New Orleans and Arkansas -- that law hasn't had any real effect at all on teen drinking. Sure, teens (mostly) can't drink in bars anymore (as opposed to when I was a kid in New Orleans, when we could -- I remember being 15 and getting served double bourbond in bars in New Orleans without anyone blinking, including me: it didn't even cross my mind that I wouldn't get sold drinks at 15 in a bar in the Quarter at that age); but no one has any trouble getting anything they want to drink, so far as I'm able to tell.
The same seems to be true of Arkansas, from what my students write in their essays and from what they tell me. This, coupled with a culture where kids start driving at 14 and 15, and an entire lack of driver's education (because it "doesn't do any good," my students assure me blithely) makes for some, ah, interesting highway experiences, here in Pork Smith.
Not to mention an interestingly high number of essays from my students about their friends who die in truck wrecks, and car wrecks, and head on collisons.
So I like that suggestion.
Not that I actually think it would make any difference. Kids would all just pick the license, and keep on drinking, wouldn't they?