Congressmen Threaten Tougher Penalties for Under-21 Drinking Age
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The District of Columbia and eight states are coming under congressional pressure for their refusal to increase their minimum drinking ages to 21, and the end result could be a loss of more federal aid.
With other states increasing their drinking ages, lawmakers said those that have not create ″blood borders″ that put more drunken drivers on the road as people between 18 and 21 drive to the more lenient states to purchase alcohol.
Under a 1984 federal law, states that do not raise their drinking ages for all alcohol to 21 by Oct. 1 could lose millions of dollars in federal highway aid.
At a hearing Thursday of the Senate D.C. appropriations subcommittee, several lawmakers said they would make the district and other states pay even more dearly if they do not join the rest of the nation.
″In these very difficult budget times, I will take a hard look at any discretionary spending in transportation for the district,″ said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., a sponsor of the law.
″States that have taken positive action cannot protect their youngsters as they’d like because they can just go next door,″ said Lautenberg. ″There is nothing more tragic in this world than the loss to a parent of a young person. Several hundred families a year could be spared that grief.″
He added, ″If public pressure doesn’t work, then let’s make sure there’s some legislative pressure.″
The subcommittee is pressing the nation’s capital to bring it’s drinking age into line with neighboring Virginia and Maryland.
″This is the nation’s capital, not the National Saloon,″ said Lautenberg, adding that the district is the only East Coast jurisdiction with a drinking age lower than 21.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., told the subcommittee that the district’s refusal to raise its drinking age has an impact far beyond its borders.
″Since the district is one of the few places where teens can buy alcohol, those who come here on class trips, internships and for other purposes are unnecessarily at risk,″ he said.
Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Ohio, South Dakota and Wyoming also have not raised their drinking ages to 21, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Agency officials said Tennessee has raised its minimum age to 21, but technically has not complied with the federal law because military personnel are exempted.
Diana Steed, administrator of NHTSA, told the subcommittee the 20 states that have raised their drinking ages since 1984 have seen a 13 percent reduction in fatal traffic accidents.
″The lack of a 21 law in the district will impede the ability of Maryland and Virginia to control underage drinking and drunk driving in the Washington suburbs,″ she said.