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Risk-Taking Rises When Youth Reach Legal Drinking Age, Study Finds

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College students are more likely to drink and drive after they reach the legal drinking age of 21, according to researchers from the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

The Los Angeles Times reported May 31 that researchers followed 1,253 students over their four-year college career and found that while just 20 percent of 20-year-olds reported driving while intoxicated, 25 percent of 21-year-olds said they had done so. Driving with an intoxicated driver was reported by 43 percent of 20-year-olds but 49 percent of 21-year-olds.

 Researchers said that while reports have shown that freshmen drink more than upperclassmen, older college students may be more likely to take alcohol-related risks due to easier access to alcohol or cars.

“Our findings call into question the assertions of some advocates who claim that lowering the drinking age to 18 would be a useful strategy for reducing harm associated with alcohol consumption,” said study author Amelia Arria. “The present findings are consistent with numerous prior studies showing that increased availability of alcohol is associated with a greater level of problems, especially underage drinking-and-driving fatal crashes.”

The study is scheduled to be published in the August 2010 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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