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
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
Date Last Updated
- Scientifically Supported: Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.
- Some Evidence: Strategies with this rating are likely to work, but further research is needed to confirm effects. These strategies have been tested more than once and results trend positive overall.
- Expert Opinion: Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.
- Insufficient Evidence: Strategies with this rating have limited research documenting effects. These strategies need further research, often with stronger designs, to confirm effects.
- Mixed Evidence: Strategies with this rating have been tested more than once and results are inconsistent or trend negative; further research is needed to confirm effects.
- Evidence of Ineffectiveness: Strategies with this rating are not good investments. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently negative and sometimes harmful results.