LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - For some 30 seems old. But numbers show that a 30-year-old law is saving lives.
Thursday marks the 30th anniversary of the national drinking age being raised from 18 to 21.
Since 1984, when the law passed, alcohol-related fatalities have significantly decreased in 16 to 20 years old, but local bar owners say that's because of education and feel the drinking age should be lowered.
On July 17 1984, president Ronald Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act requiring all states to change the drinking age or face a 10 percent loss in state highway funding.
After 30 years, local tavern league members feel it's time for a change. By lowering the drinking age to 19.
In the 1970s alcohol was a factor in 60 percent of traffic fatalities according to the National Institute of Health. Two-thirds of traffic deaths at that time were among those ages 16 to 20 were alcohol-related.
"It was kind of like it needed to be done at that time," La Crosse County Tavern League vice president Glenn Garbers said.
Since the National Minimum Drinking Age Act alcohol-related traffic deaths have been cut in half. And the Culture of Risky Drinking Behavior Community Coalition said that's reason to celebrate the past 30 years.
"By raising the drinking age to 21 we've saved lives," Jeremy Arney, Changing the Culture of Risky Drinking Behavior Community Coalition member, said.
La Crosse County Tavern League president Mike Brown agrees there has been a decrease in fatalities, but said a lot of that's due to education.
Brown said since the law more problems have arisen.
"The real problem we see is the influx of binge drinking with the unsupervised drinking of 18 to 21 years old," Brown said.
Brown and many other Tavern League members feel the drinking age should be 19.
"Make sure the kids are out of high school, put them in a supervised position where they are supervised in a licensed establishment where they control what they drink," Brown said.
"Well at 19, we feel that you can serve your country and everything like this and you're more mature at 19 and you can drink responsibly," Garbers said.
But the Culture of Risky Drinking Behavior Community Coalition says 19 is too young.
"On average a person ends adolescence at 19, but you're brain is still growing. Your frontal cortex, that's the thing that develops your inhibitions and your maturity levels and that is still growing. So there is scientific evidence that shows if you impede that growth with alcohol consumption, you might not get to that full development," Arney said.
Everyone we spoke with agrees it will be very difficult to try to change the drinking age. The Tavern League said it's a discussion worth having though.
The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates about 1,000 deaths per year are prevented by laws like this.
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