It is generally accepted throughout the United States that to lawfully drive a vehicle on public streets and roads you must be at least 16 years of age. But upon reaching 16 years and passing both a written and practical test you may legally take out on public streets and roads in a one ton vehicle often capable of speeds in excess of one 100 mph and often in close proximity to scores of other people at any given time. So clearly those who declared that 16-year olds are capable of handling such responsibilities are than willing to accept significant risk.
But 16-year olds cannot legally enter a binding contract, although in some states they may actually get married, which has many binding elements to it. Nope to enter a binding contract one must be at least 18 years of age.
Age 18 is a pivotal age in America because not only may you enter into legally binding contracts you can also vote which means that any American citizen age 18 or older can actually help decide on who shall be President and in the Congress. That is pretty heady stuff because an 18-year old can help put a President in office but he or she cannot become President. To assume that office one must be at least 35 years of age, presumably because our wise leaders thought that one must have at least 35 years of experience in life in order to possess the wisdom essential for running the office of the President.
And even though 18 year olds can help elect Congressmen and Senators they cannot hold either of those offices either because one must be at least 30 years of age to be a U.S. Senator and at least 25 years of age to become a Congressman. So what this says is any 18-year-old is wise enough to help decide who holds those important offices but clearly lacking adequate maturity to hold any of them his or herself? Please tell me how does that make any sense?
Also 18-year-old American citizens can, subject to meeting a few other requirements join the U.S. military and go off to some foreign land and possibly get killed. So 18 years olds can drive, they can vote, they help elect senior positions in the government and they can even voluntarily go get killed. But what no 18-year-old cannot legally do in the United States of America is enjoy a glass of wine with his or her dinner. Nor can any 18-year-old in America legally have a beer at the baseball stadium. Nope to be able to handle that one must be at least 21 years of age. Now tell me please how does any of this make any sense whatsoever? Any American 18 year old can legally jump in his hot rod, scream over to the polling place and help get someone elected President or to the Congress, can sign legally binding contracts and then speed off to a recruiting office and volunteer for foreign duty as an infantryman and go off and get killed — and that is fine. But don’t give that 18, 19 or even 20-year-old a glass of wine or you are breaking the law.
Now let’s consider a few changes to return sanity to the system.
The insurance rates for automotive liability insurance speak loudly to just how much we really trust 16-year-old drivers – we don’t. Even so there are many good arguments for allowing 16 year olds to get licensed to drive. So I would keep the age the same but double down on required training, both book training and even more mandatory behind the wheel training with qualified instructors and not only mom and dad. Yes there would be some additional expense, but far less than the cost of just one unfortunate collision. Driving is not a right it is a privilege and those who seek to exercise that privilege must be genuinely qualified so some extra training seems reasonable.
Now as for the 18 year olds being able to sign contracts, vote, get married, join the military, much of that came in reaction to the Vietnam War. It was before previously deemed that 18 year old females were adults but men did not qualify as adults until age 21. Huh! Why that is sex discrimination! You bet but with some justification because there is abundant evidence to suggest that girls do mature overall more quickly than boys.
Consequently there was plenty of evidence to suggest that an 18 year old female was about equal to a 21 year old male in matters of basic maturity. But along came the Vietnam war and the big argument was if men could be drafted and sent off to an awful war at age 18 then they should also have some say in who runs the government at age 18, plus it eliminated the clear sexual discrimination. Sounds rational and in some applications it is fine. In local government, school boards, even state and county elections arguably 18 is adequate but I don’t believe it applies to the federal government.
If our forefathers who did a heck of a lot right with our constitution firmly believed that no one should be allowed to serve in Congress until reaching at least age 25 or the Senate until at least 30 or as President until at least age 35 then doesn’t it also make sense that no one can vote for candidates seeking those positions until such time as they have attained the required age to serve? Want to vote for a Congressional candidate then you must be 25 to vote for a Congressman, 30 for a Senator and 35 for President. Why should anyone deemed not yet fit to hold an office be allowed in determining who can be elected to that office?
So summing it all up I propose keeping the driving age 16 but requiring some further training prior to being granted a license. Age 18 is young but reasonable for most adult activities including legal responsibility and to vote in many but not all elections. Whenever a particular office has a legal mandated age minimum those voting for such candidates should also have attained that same age before they can vote for any candidate seeking that office. And as for the wine …
Do we as a nation or do we not hold to the principal that every American citizen is entitled to enjoy maximum individual freedom of expression and their personal pursuit of happiness? If that is true, then is not each individual’s very own body theirs and only theirs to be enjoyed fully and freely without governmental interference? Yes, absolutely whenever anyone’s action causes pain, damage or even death to another then the person causing such damage should and must be held accountable for their wrong doing and the damage it brings to others.
If that is true then how is it even possible that an 18 year old person in America can be denied access to wine or another beverage for that matter? If a father or mother or brother or sister wants to go out for dinner to celebrate some wonderful family event, why can’t everyone enjoy a glass of champagne it they wish without governmental interference? Sure they can and probably often do simply celebrate how they want in the privacy of their home but why is that necessary?
And yes overindulgence is a bad thing in many ways including some of the very bad things that can happen when someone decides to drive while intoxicated. But that is true of a person at age 80 as well as someone at age 16. It is the risk to others that is properly protected by severe legal consequences for drunk driving. So why have a particular age restriction on the consumption of alcohol? With proper parental guidance the risk of any significant damage to anyone can be reduced to very near zero.
So let’s all be real adults now and restore some level of sensibility to who and how we get to do what when and how based currently based almost entirely on very irrational ages. Sure there have to be rules and lines but to be most effective they also have to make sense and serve the greater good while currently offering the greatest amount of personal freedom.
•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••
You might also want to check out ronirwin.net just for fun. Any age is fine.
Top photo is a YouTube screenshot of U.S. Marine recruits at MCRD San Diego
If they are old enough to die for their country then they should be old enough to have a beer, legally
Ron Irwin was born in Chicago, Illinois a long time ago. He served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, became a trial lawyer, TV and radio host, CEO of a public company and once held an Emmy. He never won an Emmy he just held one. Ron has written and published twelve books. His most important book to date is “Live, Die, Live Again” in which Ron tells of his early life and his unexpected and very temporary death in 2012. That experience dramatically refocused his life and within the pages of that book Ron reveals how he achieved a much healthier life, ridding himself of Diabetes, Cancer and Heart Failure. Now Ron enjoys writing about many things including health topics, travel [he has circled the globe several times], adventure, culinary experiences and the world of performing art. Ron’s motto is “Live better, live longer and live stronger because it feels great and annoys others.” Contact the author.