National Minimum Drinking AgeAlcohol is the number one youth drug problem in America and an issue that carries over when teens are behind the wheel. Drivers are considered to be alcohol-impaired when their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level is greater than 0.01. In 2011, the percentage of teens behind the wheel (ages 15 to 20) dying in crashes with a BAC greater than 0.01 increased to 41 percent from 38 percent in 2008.
Until the 1980s, each state had its own laws determining the minimum drinking age. This led to the creation of “blood borders,” where teens would drive to states with lower drinking ages and be involved in fatal crashes on the return trip. In 1984, following an overall increase in alcohol-related traffic fatalities and injuries, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act (NMDA), or the Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act, requiring states to legislate and enforce 21 as a minimum age for purchasing and publicly possessing alcoholic beverages. Since July 1988, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have enforced a legal drinking age of 21.
According to NHTSA, between 1982 and 1998 there were 61 percent fewer drunk driving fatalities involving young drivers, as compared to a decrease of just 24 percent among 25-to 55-year-old drivers. This can be partly attributed to NMDA laws. As of 2006, 46 studies have confirmed the effectiveness of raising the drinking age. There has been a median decrease of 17 percent in fatal teen crashes since the NMDA went into effect. NHTSA estimates that the lives of over 27,052 18 to 20-year-olds were saved between 1975 and 2006 due to NMDA laws, as well as 714 lives in 2008 alone.