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Why the US drinking age is 21

“Michael, welcome to the White House.” This is the 40th president of the United States,
Ronald Wilson Reagan, and Michael Joseph Jackson. 1984 Michael Jackson. “For Michael Jackson brings a thrill a minute
to his millions of fan.” “We have quite a few young folks in the
White House who all wanted me to give you the same message – they said to tell Michael,
please give some TLC to the PYTs.” So this is not just a footnote in history. It actually connects, in a weird way, to the
reason that you have to be 21 in every state in the United States to buy alcohol. I’ll show you. States determine their own minimum legal drinking
ages, and in 1975, they looked like this. All these blue states are at 18. All these green ones are 19. Delaware’s yellow, alone at 20. These orange ones are 21, but with allowances
for lower alcohol levels in stuff like beer and wine. And these red ones are the 21 and older states. It’s a complicated map. Now look at the map today. It’s all 21
How did that change happen? This story takes you to a political crossroads,
and the Supreme Court, and, in a weird way, to Michael Jackson shaking hands next to the
president, while dressed like this. But the drinking age change is ultimately
a story…about roads. Prohibition, the 18th amendment to the US
Constitution, banned alcohol in 1920. It was repealed by the 21st amendment — and
after that, a lot of states settled on a drinking age of 21 and older. See the red here, in the late 60s? Those are all 21 and older states. In the 70s, the 26th amendment changed the
dynamic again. “That amendment, as you know, provides for
the right to vote of all of our young people between 18 and 21, 11 million new voters as
a result of this amendment.” 18 year olds could be drafted to Vietnam and
vote, so a lot of states decided they could drink. That map was short lived for one reason. “And here comes
the President.” “Nearly 50,000 people were killed on our
highways last year. Now out of that statistic comes an even more
chilling one. Drunk drivers were involved in 25,000 of those
fatalities, in addition to 750,000 injuries a year.” Drinking age reform advocates quickly attributed
drunk driving fatalities in the blue states, or 18 and older states, to earlier drinking
ages. People argued that teens driving across state
lines to drink or purchase alcohol increased drunk driving. This 1983 map was still a hodgepodge, but
see how more states turned green — for 19 — and yellow — for 20 years old? That was driven partly by an awareness campaign. “Thank you very much, Mr. President.” Michael Jackson? He was being honored for letting his music
be used in anti-drunk driving PSAs. “You’re as good as dead.” But tactics weren’t limited to PR. President Reagan is famous for saying: “The
nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government
and I’m here to help.’” That made his strategy kind of surprising. “For even though drunk driving is a problem
nation-wide, it can only be solved at the state and local level. Yet the Federal Government also has a role
to play.” His thinking was influenced by two main groups. “Much of the credit for focusing public
attention goes to the grassroots campaign of organizations like MADD, Mothers Against
Drunk Drivers, and RID, Remove Intoxicated Drivers.” Candace “Candy” Lightner founded MADD
in 1980 after her daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver. MADD’s goals at the time included making
it easier to obtain DUI convictions… and raising the drinking age. This direction was clear at River Dell High
School in Oradell, New Jersey, where President Reagan explained his unpredictable political
evolution. The problem:
“I appointed a Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving. They told us that alcohol related automobile
accidents are the leading cause of teenage deaths in this country.” The theory:
“In states in which the drinking age has been raised, teenage drinking fatalities have
gone down significantly. Here in New Jersey, you raised the drinking
age to 21 in 1983, and you know what happened: you had a 26% reduction in nighttime single
vehicle fatalities among 19 and 20 year olds in the first year alone.” The dilemma:
“I was delighted again because I hoped that the states would, as they should, take this
action themselves without federal orders or interference.” “It’s led to a kind of crazy quilt of
different state drinking laws, and that’s led to what’s been called blood borders,
with teenagers leaving their home to go the nearest state with a lower drinking age.” And here? This is where the roads come in. The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 created
a network of roads largely funded by Federal dollars. Those roads quickly became crucial to state
economies. That money also became a way to bend the states
to Federal priorities, even if it meant Reagan had to change his typical political positions. “I’ve decided to support legislation to
withhold 5% of a state’s highway funds if it does not enact the 21-year-old drinking
age. Some may feel that my decision is at odds
with my philosophical viewpoint that state problems should involve state solutions, and
it isn’t up to a big and overwhelming government in Washington to tell the states what to do. And you’re partly right. Beyond that, there are some special cases
in which overwhelming need can be dealt with by prudent and limited federal action.” The law passed. That’s Candy Lightner, celebrating. “I’d like to make you an honorary mother
against drunk drivers.” It wasn’t technically a nationwide drinking
age law, but in effect — it was. “We have no misgiving about this judicious
use of Federal power.” States quickly adopted the 21-year-old drinking
age. Most couldn’t afford to lose federal funding
for their highways. Louisiana was the only state that held out
at age 18 (due to a loophole, which it closed in the mid 90s). South Dakota challenged the law to preserve
sale of low alcohol beer for 19 year olds and up, and it reached the Supreme Court. “You may proceed whenever you’re ready.” “Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the
court, the issue in this case is whether or not Congress may condition the receipt of
highway funds upon a state having in effect 21-year-old drinking age.” The court ruled 7-2, stating it was within
Congress’s powers to control spending that promoted “general welfare,” argued as
the reduction of youth drinking and driving via the 21-year-old drinking age. Did it work? Most studies of studies declare “case closed”
— that the higher drinking age saves lives, and “reduces alcohol consumption.” Skeptics, like people from the libertarian
Cato Institute, claim a broader cultural change, not a law, should be credited with saving
lives. Reagan himself kind of argued both sides,
saying that, “the new minimum drinking age is working,” but that “my friends, there’s
so much more to do, and it’s not government that can do it.” Politically, Ronald Reagan using Federal purse
strings to strong arm states is…a strange pairing. But beyond the politics, there’s a bigger
message. The Federal government has used other levers
to push states, but to change the drinking age there was one big tool. The thing that changed the country wasn’t
just the lines on states’ edges. It was the ones that run through them. Alright, that’s it for this road trip edition
of Almanac. I’m about to reveal what the theme for the
next edition is gonna be, but first I want to read some comments from the last video
all about Route 66. “People born in the 20th century: the reasons
in this video. 2000s kids: Ka-Chow!” “Kachow!” So many Cars comments. “That warning at 1:00 is basically TLDR;
hey tourists, wild donkeys kick.” Alright, that’s it for this edition of Almanac. In the next one, I’m gonna be looking at
the big ideas that completely changed movies — and had nothing to do with Hollywood.


  1. Phil Edwards
    Phil Edwards August 29, 2019

    Hey, thanks a lot for watching this Road Trip edition of Almanac. You also really shaped it in a ton of ways.
    Watch the rest of the episodes here:
    Don't miss them!

  2. jhoca
    jhoca September 4, 2019

    I feel like other countries have lower drinking ages because they don’t rely so heavily on driving for transportation. You can’t be a drunk driver if you’re not driving…you’re just a drunk person taking public transportation 🤔

  3. Fakhrurrazie Jaffar
    Fakhrurrazie Jaffar September 4, 2019

    So, anyone 21 or older are more responsible when it comes to drinking alcohol and driving?

  4. HLparadise
    HLparadise September 4, 2019

    21 to drink in order to save teenage lives. YET 18 to pilot predator drones And massacre families.

  5. Gavin Roddy
    Gavin Roddy September 4, 2019

    Can get drafted into a war and have to fight at 18 but can’t have a beer 🤦‍♂️. Makes sense

  6. Wildomar Sanders
    Wildomar Sanders September 4, 2019

    You're allowed to get a license at 16 because 16 is the legal age when you can have a job and you might need to get there after school.

  7. J LA
    J LA September 4, 2019

    What is hilarious is that none of these laws stopped teens from drinking in the least. IDK a single teen who hasn't at least tried drinking. The education of young people about the dangers of drunk driving is what helped stop so many from drinking and driving. We always had a DD when I was a teen, and we all still drank. (except the DD of course)

  8. Pillow man
    Pillow man September 4, 2019

    Alcohol: must be 21

    Military: 18 or older to join

    Isn’t America great?

  9. Rey
    Rey September 4, 2019

    They wont let you drink at 18 but they're happy sending you off to war. 'Merica.

  10. Leggon Arm
    Leggon Arm September 4, 2019

    5%? Just lower the age to 16 to get more tax on alcohol. I should be a governor.

  11. HildebrandJohnson
    HildebrandJohnson September 4, 2019

    They used the same club to get the national 55 mph speed limit. That one was eventually reverse.

  12. Rosey I.
    Rosey I. September 4, 2019

    Our country taken a time to recover from the Volstead Act.

  13. PotatoChips23415
    PotatoChips23415 September 4, 2019

    You may be 21 to buy alcohol, 18 to buy a gun, 16 to drive a car, 14 to work, but there is no age limit on a pointless strawman comparing 2 laws that have formed in completely different ways.

  14. George Washington
    George Washington September 4, 2019


  15. brainless nicholas
    brainless nicholas September 5, 2019

    18, once you are an adult you should have the choice to put any substance in your body without worrying about the law

  16. Vovovito
    Vovovito September 5, 2019

    Well in Germany it's 16, so suckes to be you America lol

  17. David Thompson
    David Thompson September 5, 2019

    WAZ 18 1978, then GRANDFATHER IN, N ONTO BECOMING A DRUNK 👉😜💰🥀🥀💩💩💩💩

  18. Vanessa Evans
    Vanessa Evans September 5, 2019

    Maybe when cars have built-in breathalyzers we can have a reasonable drinking age.

  19. Seth Russell
    Seth Russell September 5, 2019

    Why'd you steal the Stranger Things soundtrack though?

  20. OffBeatBerry 27
    OffBeatBerry 27 September 5, 2019

    And guess what?

    We got like 16 year olds drinking.

  21. Fahad Umer
    Fahad Umer September 5, 2019

    Can you please make a video on Kashmir Issue? That could fuel the nuclear war.

  22. Will Naman
    Will Naman September 5, 2019

    I am pretty sure Michael Jackson served alcohol to minors. Republicans lie about supporting states rights.

  23. flof
    flof September 5, 2019

    Americans: Look at our freedom

    Also Americans: We can't drink until were 21

  24. myungskywalker
    myungskywalker September 5, 2019

    Why is all background music these days hijacked from stranger things

  25. Dennis Menace
    Dennis Menace September 5, 2019

    cause they can't handle their drink

  26. Josh Judge
    Josh Judge September 5, 2019

    In the uk you can drink over the age of 5 your in your own home

  27. Джордж
    Джордж September 5, 2019

    the real reason:
    what's 9 + 10?

  28. FrizzellTube
    FrizzellTube September 5, 2019

    Here in Nova Scotia, Canada the drinking age is 19.

  29. Noah Septer
    Noah Septer September 5, 2019

    If it had so much to deal with younger people crossing state lines to get alcohol then why did Alaska and Hawaii have to be included in it as well? They're not contiguous to the rest of the US and have no highways connecting them to any other state…

  30. The South East Londoner
    The South East Londoner September 5, 2019

    Love this media platform! 👍🏾👌🏾

  31. The South East Londoner
    The South East Londoner September 5, 2019

    Love learning lots of new things via this platform!

  32. The South East Londoner
    The South East Londoner September 5, 2019

    Always wondered why the legal age to drink in America was 21. 🤨🤔 …….. good to learn more.

  33. Tanner Loehr
    Tanner Loehr September 5, 2019

    So basically Michael Jaxon violated children and then took our alcohol away. Nice work.

  34. 5Cents Media
    5Cents Media September 5, 2019

    if only we had better public transit removing having to drive at all 🤨

  35. Donald Trump the Treasonous Traitor
    Donald Trump the Treasonous Traitor September 5, 2019

    Imo it should be 18 for wine and beer and 21 for hard alcohol.

  36. FrogSqueal
    FrogSqueal September 5, 2019

    So if you're 18, you're considered a youth and an adult, but not old enough to drink, however, you can go to war, vote and buy guns? So are you an adult-adult at 21? This makes no sense. So what did raising the drinking age do….make it so now most of the people drunk driving are 21 and older? How does this solve the problem again? Drunk driving still accounts for more than 30% of all traffic fatalities which is only down a few percent over what it was 30+ years ago.

  37. Pillow man
    Pillow man September 6, 2019

    why are people making jokes on this topic?

  38. Glo Mar
    Glo Mar September 6, 2019

    Stranger things background music

  39. Taz-on-the-loose Yusef
    Taz-on-the-loose Yusef September 6, 2019

    in South Africa age limit is 7 years

  40. n1fl3x
    n1fl3x September 6, 2019

    Meanwhile in Germany, you can legally drink at 14, and buy alcohol at 16

  41. alejandro ojeda
    alejandro ojeda September 6, 2019

    So your problem with drinking IS drunk driving but you let 16 year old teens Drive 🤦

  42. Joseph Weimer
    Joseph Weimer September 6, 2019

    Soundtrack in the beginning sounds like Stranger Things…

  43. William Gaylord
    William Gaylord September 6, 2019

    The Stranger Things soundtrack really made this video more interesting.

  44. David Sendero Del Santos
    David Sendero Del Santos September 6, 2019

    The Great and Holy Drug War, Mass Incarceration, and all the other evils associated with NeoProhobition began with the Reagan Reaction against the civil Rights and economic advancement of the working class during the 1960s and 70s.

  45. O Fenómeno
    O Fenómeno September 6, 2019

    I am sure all of you American teenagers have never drunk any alcohol in your teens

  46. O Fenómeno
    O Fenómeno September 6, 2019

    States rights now!

  47. Andrew Nichols
    Andrew Nichols September 6, 2019

    I know you're technically correct, but can we stop calling 18 year old teenagers. Can we call them adults?

    Otherwise we're going to have to be ok with the statement "we're sending teenagers to war against their will"

  48. im_a_snacc
    im_a_snacc September 7, 2019

    mate ive been drinking since I was 12

  49. The Angry Food Critic
    The Angry Food Critic September 7, 2019

    Creeped out ok first off i went to riverdell and second now my birthday is in this video.

  50. Mark Ass Brownlee
    Mark Ass Brownlee September 7, 2019

    I’m 16 and German and I’m watching this while sipping a cold Erdinger

  51. nick gurr
    nick gurr September 7, 2019

    u can be 16 accompanied by an adult to drink in nz ahah shame

  52. Michael H
    Michael H September 7, 2019

    I'm confused, isn't vox normally for government interference? They are super left wing but it sounds like they want less government interference in this subject.

  53. harm ambergen
    harm ambergen September 7, 2019

    the video is a bit…. all over the place the beginning trough your story all over the place

  54. Something_French
    Something_French September 7, 2019

    Vox just wanted an excuse to bring up Michael Jackson

  55. CHOPPY
    CHOPPY September 7, 2019

    The music is stranger things

  56. Filip
    Filip September 7, 2019

    Over here in Sweden, you can drink when you turn 18 but you can't buy until you're 21 to prevent you from buying for minor friends

  57. SolracCAP
    SolracCAP September 7, 2019

    More of these videos please! I'm tired of all the political stuff!

  58. Mattias Shao
    Mattias Shao September 7, 2019

    Canada is 19

  59. Freedom
    Freedom September 8, 2019

    Driving at 16 thats weird to an European

  60. How will pizza get a job now?
    How will pizza get a job now? September 8, 2019

    USA: 21
    UK: 18

    Half of Europe: 16

  61. Abdusselam Zahma
    Abdusselam Zahma September 8, 2019

    I don't see the problem of being forbidden to poison yourself at a young age. Perhaps it lowers the intelligence, looking at some people's comments

  62. Janioong
    Janioong September 8, 2019

    Thank you so much for the time and effort to make all of this. You crew are amazing i wish i could be a part of you someday.

  63. Affluent Nerd
    Affluent Nerd September 8, 2019

    I started drinking at 13 by paying bums who asked for money to buy the bottles I wanted and I would tip them when they came out with it.

  64. petterhny
    petterhny September 8, 2019

    The problem is just as much that people have few options but to drive home after drinking as it is the drinking alone. Invest in public transport, you're not supposed to be a third world country, America.

  65. Will Strong
    Will Strong September 8, 2019

    Sandra Day O'Connor's dissent in South Dakota v Dole is a great read for anyone interested

  66. acar1994
    acar1994 September 8, 2019

    And still in September 2019, Puerto Rico continues to lose 10% of its federal funding (Billions of $$$) due to keeping it's Drinking age at 18. They need the raise the age.

  67. My weave too tight 35
    My weave too tight 35 September 8, 2019

    In Texas you can drink at like 13 if you have your legal guardian present

  68. Torben Rudgaard
    Torben Rudgaard September 9, 2019

    What is the minimum age you can use a gun?

  69. Ph Ph
    Ph Ph September 9, 2019

    Guns at 18! That why America is the best at guns..

  70. PokeObsession
    PokeObsession September 9, 2019

    I forgot about the reasoning. The person who made this created such a dramatic narrative

  71. James Shafiei
    James Shafiei September 9, 2019

    pfft your country allows you to vote and forces you to fight in wars when you turn 18 and become an adult, but doesn't trust you to drink responsibly? one of the many things broken in the USA.

  72. Jonathan Masters
    Jonathan Masters September 9, 2019

    This guy looks like a distant cousin of chris parnell

    MVNGO VII September 9, 2019

    Make a video why kids can buy weapons 🤪

  74. Mohammad Bn
    Mohammad Bn September 9, 2019

    Am I the only one who thinks the music is so so similar to Stranger Things theme song😐

  75. aasisch
    aasisch September 9, 2019

    Who else thought the kid in the thumbnail pic was young Tucker Carlson?

  76. Olivia Allison
    Olivia Allison September 9, 2019

    Nobody seems to notice that we have the drinking age there so then people have the chance to fully develop their brain instead of stunting it at 9 while getting blackout drunk at a bar?
    Idk, just my opinion. Maybe you should try not poisoning yourself with a recreational drug whilst being a child???

  77. Bot Haxz xD
    Bot Haxz xD September 9, 2019

    Okey let me tell you something u have to be 16-18 years old to drive 21 Year old to drink BUT YOU CAN BE 8 YEARS OLD TO TALK TO THE DEVIL????

  78. lostlegend1717
    lostlegend1717 September 9, 2019

    The Drinking age in PR is 18, no much drunk driver fatalities… is cultural….

  79. Danilo Popović
    Danilo Popović September 10, 2019

    In my country, and I am not a lawyer, but if you are 14 or older, and are with a parent or guardian, you can drink. It is prohibited to serve and sell alchohol to people younger then 18, but consumption is prohibited for children (defined as 13 or younger). So technicly, 15 year old can drink with his/her parents or guardian.

  80. The Poxh
    The Poxh September 10, 2019

    A story about… roads? Where we are heading to, we don’t need “roads”…

  81. mey garn
    mey garn September 10, 2019

    In my country we have to be 18 to do everything like driving drinking buying ciggarettes (witch im not planning to do)

  82. eoin ye
    eoin ye September 10, 2019

    Because they couldn't handle it

  83. springbay1
    springbay1 September 11, 2019

    How about someone giving a thought to teaching kids not to drink and drive instead? 'Murica, why do you always have to do things the wrong way?

  84. LangBellsChannel
    LangBellsChannel September 11, 2019

    I've heard it's because of the development of the brain at 21.

  85. Trae Wayman
    Trae Wayman September 11, 2019

    This can also unearth an issue with the legality of weed. the same thing is happening, we will witness an established age for kush consumption in our lives lives

  86. laurent s.
    laurent s. September 11, 2019

    I'm from Belgium, can legaly drink beer at the age of 16, at 18 also liquors, whiskey, etc. At 16 drive a moped/scooter, classe A, max 25km/h, no license needed, classe B max 45km/h need to get a license. At 18 you can drive a car with a licence ofcourse.

  87. Malamockq
    Malamockq September 11, 2019

    The hypocrisy of republicans is astounding. Racist repub hicks like Reagan are champions of states rights when it pertains to slavery, but when it pertains to one specific thing they personally are morally opposed to, then states rights are thrown out like garbage.

    With that said, if you're old enough to be drafted, you're old enough to drink.

  88. Carl L
    Carl L September 11, 2019

    I bet you drunk driving would decline even more if you banned alcohol, completely!

  89. nGon-
    nGon- September 11, 2019

    Yeah, I would rather have a drunk guy with an AR15 than a drunk guy who could potentially have a driving license

  90. Le Avventure di Brotha
    Le Avventure di Brotha September 11, 2019

    Problem was not drinking but giving a car to kids of 16 YO

  91. Kiwi YT
    Kiwi YT September 11, 2019

    Why not

  92. Andreas Lindgren
    Andreas Lindgren September 11, 2019

    The legal age should be 85

  93. Jacob Monnin
    Jacob Monnin September 12, 2019

    . The federal Gov does this all the time. Do this or we won't fund you.

  94. ShotsFired andMissed
    ShotsFired andMissed September 12, 2019

    Drunken action leads to dangerous action

  95. Kanye North
    Kanye North September 12, 2019

    If you are old enough to Vote and Fight you should also be able to drink.

  96. S P
    S P September 12, 2019

    Because they are wreckless enough even with a few extra years to mature

  97. Quaid M
    Quaid M September 12, 2019

    Lower that shii

  98. infamous4141
    infamous4141 September 12, 2019

    Because we live in the greatest country in the world

  99. Kevin A
    Kevin A September 12, 2019

    Still don't know why Michael Jackson is in this? lol

  100. Sum Guy
    Sum Guy September 12, 2019

    Two words.
    Black people.

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