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Changes in the Drinking Age and Crime

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1993
13 pages
Using data from Uniform Crime Reports, this study examined whether limiting legal access to alcohol for certain age groups affected the commission of selected crimes by individuals in those age groups.
Arrest data were analyzed in relation to changes in the drinking age in the 18-21 year range. The crimes selected as potentially related to alcohol use were homicide, aggravated assault, other assault, vandalism, and disorderly conduct. The analysis had three parts: (1) relating blood alcohol of drivers in fatal accidents to changes in the drinking age; (2) relating arrests to changes in the drinking age; and (3) relating changes in blood alcohol to changes in arrests. An examination of blood alcohol information for fatal motor vehicle accidents supported the hypothesis that raising the drinking age reduced drinking in the affected age groups. The analysis showed declines on the order of 10 percent related to raised drinking ages for vandalism and disorderly conduct but not for violent crimes, with the possible exception of assaults other than aggravated assaults. Reductions in vandalism and disorderly conduct did not seem to be related to reductions in alcohol involvement in fatal accidents. Changes in crime indicators revealed a pattern: aggravated assaults showed no reduction, other assaults showed a slight but not significant reduction, vandalism showed a significant reduction, and disorderly conduct showed a slightly greater reduction. Decreases in crime indicators increased as the degree of violence decreased. Blood alcohol data showed that the proportion of killed drivers with blood alcohol decreased when legal access was limited. An appendix describes the mathematical approach used in the analysis. 7 references, 2 notes, and 8 tables

Date Published: January 1, 1993