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Northeastern Governors Join Forces To Establish Regional Drinking Age

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In an effort to reduce alcohol-related traffic accidents, the governors of seven Northeastern states have agreed to work together for the first time to establish a uniform drinking age for the region.

Last week, at a meeting of the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, members of the coalition "resolved to provide a uniform alcohol-purchase age, and agreed to work together to achieve this goal at the earliest possible date."

Members of the coalition are Govs. William A. O'Neill of Connecticut, Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts, John H. Sununu of New Hampshire, Mario M. Cuomo of New York, Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, J. Joseph Garrahy of Rhode Island, and Richard L. Thornburgh of Pennsylvania.

The Northeastern governors' main reasons for supporting a uniform drinking age are to decrease alcohol-related traffic fatalities and reduce drunk driving, spokesmen said.

State officials in New York, based on statistics gathered after the drinking age was raised from 18 to 19 early this year, estimated that more than 90 lives would be saved annually if it were raised to 21. In addition, there would be 800 fewer alcohol-related accidents and 1,300 fewer injuries, the officials said.

Governor Cuomo introduced the resolution, said Stephen J. Morello, a spokesman, even though the proposal is not popular in New York, one of the only states where the drinking age has always been low.

In Massachusetts, the resolution has the support of Governor Dukakis because it is "sensible to have a uniform drinking age," said Barbara Kopans, director of communications for the Executive Office of Public Safety in Massachusetts.

The variation in drinking ages in the Northeastern states has contributed to the drunk-driving problem, Ms. Kopans said. She pointed out that state police frequently encounter teen-age drunk drivers who have crossed state lines to obtain alcohol. "It's a fairly common problem in other states, too," she said.

All of the states in the coalition except Pennsylvania, which has always had a drinking age of 21, have increased their drinking ages in the last few years, spokesmen said, based on national statistics that showed an increase in traffic fatalities when states lowered their drinking ages and decreases in deaths when drinking ages were raised.

In New Jersey, for example, crashes involving 18- to 20-year-olds decreased by about two thirds after the drinking age was raised to 21 last January, according to Lt. Joseph Kobus, public-information director of the New Jersey State Police. During the first six months of 1983, there were 52 fatal accidents involving 13 drunk drivers in the 18- to 20-year-old age group, he said; during the same period in 1982, there were 79 fatal accidents involving 34 drunk drivers in that group.

Several of the Governors also support a national drinking age. "A national drinking age would be the answer," said a spokesman for Gov. Thornburgh.

Legislation to establish a nationwide drinking age of 21 has been introduced recently in both houses of the Congress. The Senate bill is sponsored by Senator Richard G. Luger, Republican of Indiana; the House bill is sponsored by James J. Florio, Democrat of New Jersey.

But the bill is opposed by the liquor industry and a number of governors.

According to Carol Weissert, a spokesman for the National Governors' Association, many governors, "particularly in the Southern states," are opposed. "Generally, they would prefer to keep it out of the Fed's hands," she said, noting that many states have already increased their drinking ages, and that legislation to do so is pending in others. (See accompanying table.)

Nonetheless, the issue is expected to come up when the governors hold their annual meeting in February, Ms. Weissert said. A former governor of Massachusetts, John A. Volpe, has asked for time to discuss the establishment of a uniform national drinking age, she noted. Mr. Volpe is the chairman of the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving.

Age Limits

The drinking-age limits have changed several times in many states since the early 1970's, according to Alexander C. Wagenaar, author of Alcohol, Young Drivers, and Traffic Accidents and a researcher for the Transportation Safety Institute at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Of the 29 states that reduced the legal drinking age between 1970 and 1975, 20 have raised it again. New York is the only state to have increased its drinking age without first lowering it.

Lowering the drinking age was part of a nationwide trend to lower the age of majority at that time, he explained. In 1971, when the 26th Amendment lowered the federal voting age from 21 to 18, all 50 states followed suit.

"A common rationale," he said, "was that if young people could vote in federal elections, be drafted for military service, and have other privileges and responsibilites of adulthood, they should also have the right to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages."

But what states found, Mr. Wagenaar said, is that lowering the drinking age "dramatically" raised the number of traffic fatalities.


Alabama7/75:21 to 19--19 all beverages

Alaska9/70:21 to 191983:19 to 2121 (as of 1/84) all beverages

Arizona8/72:21 to 19--19 all beverages



Colorado----21; 18, 3.2 beer

Connecticut10/72:21 to 187/82:18 to 19,20 all beverages10/83:19 to 20

Delaware7/72:21 to 201983:20 to 2121 (as of 1/84) all beverages

District of Columbia----21; 18, beer and wine

Florida7/73:21 to 1810/80:18 to 1919 all beveragesall beverages

Georgia7/72:21 to 189/80:18 to 1919 all beveragesall beverages

Hawaii3/72:20 to 18--18 all beverages

Idaho7/72:21 to 19--19 wine and dis-

tilled spirits; 20

to 19-beer

Illinois9/73:21 to 191/80:19 to 2121 beer andbeer and wine

wine only


Iowa4/72:21 to 197/78:18 to 1919 7/73:19 to 18all beverages21 all beverages

Kansas----21; 18, 3.2 beer



Maine6/72:20 to 1810/77:18 to 2020

all beveragesall beverages

Maryland7/74:21 to 187/82:18 to 2121 beer and wine onlybeer and wine

Massachusetts3/73:21 to 184/79:18 to 2020 all beveragesall beverages

Michigan1/72:21 to 1812/78:18 to 2121 all beveragesall beverages

Minnesota6/73:21 to 189/76:18 to 1919 all beveragesall beverages

Mississippi----21; 18, 3.2 beer


Montana7/71:21 to 191/79:18 to 1919 7/73:19 to 18all beverages

all beverages

Nebraska6/72:20 to 195/80:19 to 2020 all beveragesall beverages


New Hampshire6/73:21 to 185/79:18 to 2020 all beveragesall beverages

New Jersey1/73:21 to 181/80:18 to 19,21 all beverages 1/83:19 to 21

all beverages

New Mexico----21

New York--1983:18 to 1919 all beverages

North Carolina----21; 19, beer and wine

North Dakota----21

Ohio----21; 19 beer




Rhode Island3/72:21 to 187/80:18 to 19,20 all beverages7/81:19 to 20

all beverages

South Carolina----21; 18, beer and wine

South Dakota7/72:19 to 18--21; 18, 3.2 beer only 3.2 beer

Tennessee5/71:21 to 186/79:18 to 1919 all beveragesall beverages

Texas8/73:21 to 189/81:18 to 1919 all beveragesall beverages


Vermont7/71:21 to 18--18 all beverages

Virginia7/74:21 to 187/81:18 to 19,21; 19, beer beer onlybeer


West Virginia6/72:21 to 18--19 distilled spirits

(beer and wine

18 since 1935)

Wisconsin3/72:21 to 18--18 all beverages

Wyoming5/73:21 to 19--19 all beverages |

Source: Chart based on information from Alcohol, Young Drivers, and Traffic Accidents by Alexander C. Wagenaar.

Source: From a survey by Alexander C. Wagenaar, author of Alcohol, Young Drivers, and Traffic Accidents

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