Minimum drinking age laws

Minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) laws specify an age below which the purchase or public consumption of alcoholic beverages is illegal. In the United States, the age in all states is currently 21 years (CG-Motor vehicle injury). 

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced impaired driving

  • Reduced alcohol-related crashes

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Reduced underage drinking

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that current minimum legal drinking age laws reduce alcohol-impaired driving and alcohol-related crashes (CG-Motor vehicle injury, Wagenaar 2002) as well as associated injuries among 18- to 20-year-old drivers (CG-Motor vehicle injury). Dedicated efforts to prevent alcohol sales to minors, especially compliance checks on retail alcohol outlets, increase effectiveness of these laws (Wagenaar 2002).

Since 21 became the nationwide legal drinking age, there have been significant decreases in fatal traffic crashes and alcohol-related crashes (CG-Motor vehicle injury, IOM-Underage drinking 2004) as well as arrests for driving under the influence (DUI) among young people (IOM-Underage drinking 2004). Current minimum legal drinking age laws appear to also decrease alcohol consumption among young people (Wagenaar 2002).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Although 21 is the minimum legal drinking age in all states, many states have exceptions to this law (e.g., on private premises, with parental consent, for religious purposes, etc.). As of January 2013, 14 states had no exceptions to the minimum legal drinking age for consumption of alcohol (APIS).

Citations - Evidence

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CG-Motor vehicle injury - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Motor vehicle injury prevention.

IOM-Underage drinking 2004 - Institute of Medicine (IOM), National Research Council (NRC), Committee on Developing a Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Underage Drinking, Board on Children, Youth, and Families (BCYF). Reducing underage drinking: A collective responsibility. (Bonnie RJ, O’Connell ME, eds.). Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2004.

Wagenaar 2002 - Wagenaar AC, Toomey TL. Effects of minimum drinking age laws: Review and analyses of the literature from 1960 to 2000. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 2002;(Suppl 14):206-25.

Citations - Implementation Examples

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APIS - Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS). Welcome to the Alcohol Policy Information System.

Date Last Updated

Aug 29, 2014