Friday, August 31, 2012

No Impinging on the Bingeing

I was quite surprised that parliament voted against raising the drinking age in any shape or form. Not because I think it should be raised, but because I thought the general consensus among adults not affected in any way by the change in drinking age was that it should be raised. As I said, I don't think it should be raised. The first, and possibly most important and final, point is that if you're old enough to be trusted to vote and determine the future of the country, why shouldn't you be able to buy yourself a pint? As it stands the gambling age is still 20, which makes even less sense. That's a different story though. Secondly, I'm not convinced binge drinking, let alone binge drinking among 18 and 19 year olds, is as big a problem for society as the media makes it out to be. Anyone can go out with a camera and find a representative from any age group behaving poorly as a result of alcohol. If you go into town no less, you're bound to find the binge-drinking youth because people over 25 find town on a Friday and Saturday night hellish, expensive and above all, too filled with young people who make us feel old and out of place. Us older kids largely choose to stay at home and binge drink. And remember, just because that wine you're knocking back cost $40 a bottle, doesn't mean you're not binge drinking. I've been binge drinking for 15 years. For the first 3 I was under age and for the last 9 I've been above the proposed drinking age of 20.

Excessive drinking has been part of culture since a damp bag of grain first got left in an overheated storehouse too long. What piece of writing or film set in ye olden days doesn't depict people getting their booze on. Perhaps it's largely a British influence on our own culture, but they're not the only culprits (although they may be one of the worst). Other European cultures have managed it better, such as Spain and France. This is possibly a result of a lower drinking age, making alcohol more accessible and less desirable. Regardless of where binge drinking is occurring though, it is not the exclusive domain of the irresponsible youth. I think one of the problems is that young people still know how to enjoy themselves. There's a scene in 'We Bought a Zoo' where the daughter can't sleep because there's a party next door. When the father comes in and asked what's wrong she says, 'their happy is too loud'. I think that pretty much sums up a lot of people's arguments against this sort of thing.

Well, not entirely. Obviously there are other factors, like destruction of property and clogging up the A&E. Destruction of property? I know first hand that that's not the exclusive domain of youth either; they're just fitter and able to outrun the consequences. Clogging up the A&E? Sure, it takes beds away from people who otherwise need them, but so does falling off your ladder because you didn't secure it well enough, or running over your toes with a lawnmower. Most accidents are the result of stupidity or carelessness, and it can be argued that they are largely self-inflicted one way or another. The fact that the careless self-infliction relates to an overdose of alcohol isn't all that different from a severed toe. If they don't want accidents in the A&E, they should just call it the E.

Then we come to the next big one. Drink driving. I hear people say all the time that the careless youth are responsible for a large percentage of drink driving accidents. I had no reason to doubt that, after all, they haven't been driving or drinking as long. Why would we expect them to be good at either? Anyway, I looked up the stats on the Ministry of Transport website and present to you the flashy graph you're been hanging out for (this is mean data from 2008-2010):

This clearly shows that 15-19 year olds cause a high number of alcohol and drug related fatalities (the stats I gathered didn't differentiate). They also cause a high number of non-alcohol related accidents. Like I said earlier, I would expect nothing less from people who have only been driving for a couple of years. It would be better if there were no fatalities, but sadly it's something we have to accept for the time being. Raising the drinking age might reduce alcohol-related fatalities, but 15-19 year old inflicted road toll would still be higher than many other age groups. 20-24 year olds are the biggest offenders in terms of both alcohol related and total fatalities. There's no reason to think that would change if the drinking age was raised. Interestingly, 30-34 year olds have the highest percentage of alcohol-related fatalities. So, there's an age group that has clearly learned to be more careful on the road, but after a few drinks that all goes out the window. Maybe they (or should I say 'we'?) should be more heavily targeted by the anti-drink driving campaigns.

Most interesting of all is that of all the fatalities on the road, only 34% had alcohol or drugs as a contributing factor. That means that in 66% of fatal road accidents, the person responsible was stone sober. I find that a much more terrifying prospect. It also makes me wonder, how can drink driving be considered a major contributing factor when twice as many accidents occur without it being involved? If I was to plot a graph of jeans being a contributing factor, would the statistics look the same? I dare say jeans are involved in more accidents than alcohol. OK, I'm getting into dangerous territory here; I'm on the edge of defending drink driving. That is absolutely not my stance. I loathe it and am glad that it is not as prevalent today as it was a generation ago. Actually, I don't have the stats to back that up, but I'm sure I've read that somewhere.

Right then, what's the answer. People under 20 cause a lot of accidents. Alcohol is a factor in 33% of these. Would raising the age help? I believe there is a developmental age that restricts when kids start drinking. Lowering the age to 16 wouldn't mean 12 year olds would be getting wasted every weekend. They don't need alcohol to have fun, they still have an imagination. Raising ethanol taxes might help. That would encourage low-alcohol products like good old beer over that have built-in regulators to prevent too much alcohol being consumed at once. Granted, you can still drink a lot of beer, but even if you drink 2 litres, that 2 litres is still only 5% alcohol. Drink spirits and you can polish off half a bottle before your body starts protesting, and by then it is way, way too late. People say ban RTDs. I don't agree with that either (although if you banned Woodstock & Cola, I'd wager domestic violence would plummet). 'But the marketing is targeting young girls'. Maybe that's because teenage girls are the number one consumers of all things and so any company will jump at the chance to target them. But young people aren't necessarily going to change their drinking habits based on advertising, they'll just change their brand choice, or worse, drink $10 bottles of fortified water labelled as vodka. At least alco-pop has the same built-in alcohol intake regulator as beer. Lowering the cost of alcohol in town might be another solution. If one wishes to spend hours in town but doesn't wish to spend hundreds of dollars, they preload. This is because town is a living hell and the only way to survive it is to be mildly unconscious. To preload for the next few hours requires a lot of alcohol, otherwise you might sober up in the middle and realise who you're dancing with. The problem here is that all that alcohol one consumed before heading to town hits one all at once. Suddenly the bars don't want you and the cold concrete of the concrete behind a dumpster is your only friend. If drinks were more reasonably priced in town, maybe people wouldn't preload so much and their drinking would be more evenly spaced. More time patronising the bars and less time patronising the stormwater drains.

This is a difficult problem to tackle. Largely because when it comes to alcohol, you can't do many things to youth that don't affect the more responsible, grown-up binge drinkers. One of the only things you can do is raise the drinking age. So, like I said at the beginning, I'm surprised parliament voted against the changes. I dare say tonight the happiness of 18 and 19 year olds will be doubly loud.

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