The United States is different from European countries in very many ways, and one way that most people know about is that the drinking age in the States is higher than the drinking age in Europe, while the driving age in the States is lower than the driving age in Europe. Since the United States is much larger than Europe, it is often necessary for children to get their license before the age of 18 so that they can go to work or school. More young adults out on the road, combined with the social draw of alcohol, can lead to some devastating consequences.
Recently, in early August, a Memphis, Tennessee man was finally indicted in a drunk driving case from 2015, where a pedestrian was struck and killed. The man’s blood alcohol level was a staggering .176, over twice the legal limit of .08. Unfortunately, this was not a freak accident. Alcohol related traffic accidents happen all the time in Shelby County. According to data from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, in the ten years from 2007 to 2017 there were 7,294 alcohol-related traffic incidents. That comes out to an average of about 730 accidents per year, or about 2 per day! Out of all of the 95 counties in Tennessee, Shelby County accounted for about ten percent of the total number of alcohol related incidents in this period. During this period, there were also a total of 89 fatalities and a whopping 7,590 injuries on Shelby county roads, so it is no wonder that the Memphis police department is cracking down by putting up DUI checkpoints.
Of course, there is not all bad news. The number of alcohol related accidents has actually been decreasing steadily over the last ten years in Shelby County. In 2007, there were 766 incidents (over two per day), but in 2017, there were just 271. In addition to police departments all over the country cracking down on DUIs with higher fines, suspended licenses, and jail time, more victims and families of victims are seeking legal help to fight against those who chose to drive under the influence. It is also becoming much less socially acceptable to drink and drive, and the abundance of new ridesharing apps has made it easier than ever to find a sober ride home.
Some people think that lowering the drinking the age to least 18 would help remove the allure of binge drinking rampant among many young adults, but opponents say that that would only be a viable option if the driving age were raised from 16 to at least 18 or even 21, similar to the system in Europe. However, in such a large country, raising the driving age could have a serious negative economic impact, since the main reason the European system works is because things are a lot closer together, and working does not require a vehicle. The issue is nuanced, but at least it is refreshing to note that alcohol related incidents are coming down.