The public generally assumes that the Minimum Legal Drinking Age of 21 (MDLA-21) is embodied in a single law, and therefore, all states have the same law. Actually, the MLDA-21 state laws consist of multiple provisions that support the core MLDA-21 laws and comprise a family of policies directed at controlling underage drinking. These MLDA-21 statutes vary considerably from state to state, and no state has all components advocated by the federal government. Thus, the current U.S. effort to control underage drinking involves a variable package of policies, many of which have not been evaluated for their effectiveness. The effective dates for each state statute of MLDA-21 law components have been documented. These include MLDA-21 law components that have been evaluated: illegal to possess or purchase alcohol if younger than 21, use alcohol and lose your driver's license, zero tolerance for driving (no alcohol), graduated driver licensing laws with night restrictions, and beer keg registration laws. In addition, many states have adopted social host laws concerning underage drinking parties, the use of fake identification (ID), retailer support for fake ID, transfer/production of fake identification laws, furnishing/selling, illegal to consume, state contol of alcohol, age for on-premise sellers/servers, age for off-premise sellers/servers, and responsible beverage service (RBS) training. Analyses of the effectiveness of the fake ID and social host laws on reducing underage drinking- driver rates in fatal crashes using structural equation modeling (SEM) is currently underway. The objective of this proposed research is to determine the effectiveness of three additional laws using SEM methods: (1) dram shop liability laws that expose outlet owners to third party liability and should affect service to underage as well as adult drivers;(2) state alcohol control laws because of a movement in some states to transition from state monopoly of certain aspects of alcohol distribution and/or retail sales to privatization (e.g., Pennsylvania and Virginia) and such transitions have been associated with increased alcohol availability, alcohol consumption and an increase in alcohol-related injuries;and (3) RBS training laws because some states have been strengthening their RBS training requirements in efforts to reduce overservice practices, particularly service to underage patrons.

Public Health Relevance

The current U.S. effort to control underage drinking involves a variable package of policies, many of which have not been evaluated for their effectiveness. This research will determine the association of three underage drinking laws in the states on reducing underage drinking driver fatal crash rates: (1) dram shop liability laws;(2) state alcoho control laws;and (3) responsible beverage service training laws, particularly service to underage patrons. The findings from this research will inform state officials on whether to adopt new laws or revise existing underage drinking laws in order to save the lives of many youths.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
Small Research Grants (R03)
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Community Influences on Health Behavior (CIHB)
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Bloss, Gregory
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Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation
United States
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Fell, James C; Scherer, Michael; Thomas, Sue et al. (2016) Assessing the Impact of Twenty Underage Drinking Laws. J Stud Alcohol Drugs 77:249-60
Fell, James C; Scherer, Michael; Voas, Robert (2015) The Utility of Including the Strengths of Underage Drinking Laws in Determining Their Effect on Outcomes. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 39:1528-37
Scherer, Michael; Fell, James C; Thomas, Sue et al. (2015) Effects of Dram Shop, Responsible Beverage Service Training, and State Alcohol Control Laws on Underage Drinking Driver Fatal Crash Ratios. Traffic Inj Prev 16 Suppl 2:S59-65