Drinking-Age Laws:

An Evaluation Synthesis of Their Impact on Highway Safety

PEMD-87-10: Published: Mar 16, 1987. Publicly Released: Mar 30, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO: (1) examined empirical research regarding the effect that changes in the legal drinking age have had on traffic accidents, alcohol consumption, driving after drinking, and related concerns for youth younger than the minimum drinking age; and (2) determined the extent to which these evaluations provide empirical support for federal and state policy initiatives.

Congress passed legislation in 1984 requiring states to either raise the minimum drinking age to 21 years by September 30, 1986, or risk federal withholding of some federal-aid highway funds. By October 1986, eight states and Puerto Rico had not complied with the legislation. GAO found that studies on the law show that raising the minimum drinking age has: (1) had a significant effect on reducing alcohol-related traffic accidents for the age group affected by the law; and (2) reduced the consumption of alcohol and the incidence of driving after drinking. GAO also found limited or insufficient evidence to assess: (1) the effect that the increase in the legal drinking age has had on the involvement of 16- and 17-year-old drivers in alcohol-related accidents; (2) the extent that youth cross state lines to legally obtain alcoholic beverages; and (3) the long-term effects of the law.

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