The Middlesex-London Health Unit has proposed several resolutions for the 2008 Association of Local Public Health Agencies annual meeting in regards to young people’s alcohol consumption.
Essentially, the MLHU is concerned drinkers under the age of 24 use alcohol irresponsibly, endangering themselves and others in the process. The organization cites statistics that show 1,595 youth aged 15-24 died from injury in 2001 — 45 per cent of which were in motor vehicle accidents. It goes on to say that nearly 40 per cent of all fatal crashes are the result of drinking and driving.
Thus, the MLHU is pushing for advocacy to reduce the legal Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) from 0.08 per cent to 0.05 per cent while operating a vehicle. It also is pushing for an increase in the Ontario legal drinking age to 21 or to enact a zero BAC on drivers under the age of 21.
While MLHU’s aims are noble, its proposed crackdowns are somewhat misdirected.
For instance, changing the legal drinking age to 21 is not the answer. With the U.S. as a case study, increasing the drinking age does not curb youth alcohol problems. Adolescents always have access to alcohol and often have access to motor vehicles; changing the drinking age will simply lengthen the time that young Ontarians break the law.
Imposing stricter standards on BAC, however, is a good idea, but merely focusing on eliminating BAC in those under 21 is not necessarily the best approach.
The attitude that it is okay to drink and drive is something that seems to be fostered in our parents’ generation. Frankly, Ontarians of all ages are hazardous when driving under the influence.
Good habits will be established in Ontario’s youth by acknowledging their maturity and giving them more responsibility, not taking it away. Rather than a prevalence of young people getting plastered and getting behind the wheel, the true root of the problem could be Ontario’s licensing system — which has a separate license plateau to allow BAC — or perhaps the issue is more geographical: where one lives and their associated travel needs.
Enforcing a lower legal BAC for all Ontarians is a good idea because driving is such a necessity. By pushing the envelope in terms of driving near the limit, offenders know they are taking a high risk. Most Ontarians cannot afford the inconvenience of losing their license, so making the rules more stringent should act as a deterrent.
Alcohol impairs one’s judgement; when someone pushes the boundaries a vehicle can be a deathtrap for the driver and other innocent people.
But raising the drinking age or eliminating BAC for those under 21 punishes many responsible people while not truly addressing the problem. The best solution is to tighten the regulations on all Ontarians’ BAC so that offenders think before they drunkenly grab for their keys.
The MLHU assumes that young Ontarians do not have the maturity or the common sense to exercise caution with alcohol use. The reality is, there are Ontarians of all ages who suffer from this weakness.