Don’t mess with state’s drinking age

Don't mess with state's drinking age
Don't be fooled by N. Bob Pesall.

Pesall is a Flandreau lawyer who is considering a possible signature campaign that would let South Dakota voters decide if the legal age to drink low-point beer should be reduced.

He believes the drinking age for beer that is no stronger than 3.2 percent alcohol should be 19 instead of the current 21 for all alcoholic drinks.

He defends his view that you shouldn't have to wait until you're 21 to drink alcohol by trotting out some well-worn arguments that frankly have become more than a bit tiresome.

"We hold our young men and women up as adults when it comes to paying taxes or entering contracts," he said in an Associated Press story recently. "We expect them to take up arms at home and abroad in defense of themselves and their nation. We put their lives in harm's way overseas, but at home we do not trust them to enjoy a cold beer. This is simply wrong."

Here's an oldy-but-a-goody that Pesall didn't mention: When you're 18, you're old enough to vote, but dag-nab it, you can't enter a bar and order a beer.

Well, let's see. Using Pesall's logic, we could argue that we trust 14-year-olds who have obtained a learner's permit behind the wheel of a car.

Teens at that "ripe" young age can also operate motorcycles with the proper learner's permit.

That's a lot of responsibility. Surely they should be allowed to legally purchase and drink beer, too. Right?

It's too bad Pesall didn't do his homework. Research by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety shows that lowering the drinking age has been effective in reducing drinking and driving among teenagers.

When a number of states, including South Dakota, restored higher purchasing age laws in the 1980s, researchers found that nighttime fatal crashes among young drivers were reduced by 28 percent. A subsequent study in 26 states that raised minimum purchasing ages during 1975-84 estimated a 13 percent reduction in nighttime driver fatal crash involvement.

A drinking age of 21 is still having a positive effect among the state's youth. On Tuesday, Nov. 20, the South Dakota Youth Risk Behavior Survey Trend Report was released to the South Dakota Board of Education. The report presents data from Youth Risk Behavior Surveys administered from 1991 to 2005. Students in grades 9-12 at randomly selected public, private and Bureau of Indian Education schools participated in the survey.

Administered every other year, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey is a questionnaire that assesses the six priority health-risk behaviors that result in the greatest amount of morbidity, mortality, and social problems among youth.

These six priority health-risk behaviors include: injuries; tobacco use; alcohol and other drug use; sexual behaviors that result in HIV infection, other sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy; poor dietary behaviors; and physical inactivity.

Some of the major behavioral changes identified in the trend report include:

  • Decrease in the percentage of students who, during the past 30 days, rode in a vehicle with a driver who had been drinking alcohol (50 percent in 1991 to 32 percent in 2005).
  • Decrease in the percentage of students who, during the past 30 days, drove a vehicle when they had been drinking alcohol (28 percent in 1991 to 17 percent in 2005).
  • Decrease in the percentage of students who reported binge drinking within the past month (41 percent in 1991 to 34 percent in 2005).

    Notice that even though some substantial headway has been made in these three areas, there is still a lot of room for improvement. Can you picture these positive trends continuing if the drinkng age is lowered? No? We can't either.

    "South Dakota is one of only three states that have been able to secure weighted data for every year the Youth Risk Behavior Survey has been conducted," said April Hodges, who is with the Department of Education's Coordinated School Health program. "Even though we are seeing improvement in a number of areas, the total percentage of students participating in some of these risky behaviors is still too high."

    We hope Pesall will eventually realize his ideas about the state's drinking age are dangerous and without merit.

    The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at

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