What is the status of the Drinking Age / Highway Funding connection?

So back in the mid-1980’s, states were basically blackmailed into raising the drinking age to 21, or else lose highway funding. Was this correlation ever put into law? If so, does it still hold true? Or was this just a threat without an actual law to back it up?

Now that more and more people are starting to see that the problems caused by raising the drinking age are perhaps outweighing any potential benefits, there are movements afoot to lower the age back to 18. I just wondered if anyone knew what sort of legal hurdles would have to be scaled. (Obviously the public relations battle would probably be an even bigger obstacle).

And did anyone ever challenge the legality of the law at the time?

South Dakota challenged the highway funding/drinking age connection in South Dakota v. Dole (483 US 203) in 1987.

You can read the decision here

It was a 7-2 decision with Brennan and O’Connor dissenting.

Quite frankly, just another blatant example of the federal government blackmailing the states. The irony that these kids are old enough to get drafted and die but can’t even have a beer…well, seems somewhat ridiculous to me.

The next federal highway blackmail will be to lower the DUI level to 0.08%, which seems absurdly low to me (considering that’s 1 glass of wine with dinner for a 140 pound person).

Just out of curiosity, what problems?

This sounds a bit high and I have looked for my defensive driving manual but can’t find it (well found one of two but that one doesn’t have the chart). I think that a 140lb person might qualify as DWAI which is 0.05 BAC but think not. This is from MADD, not a reliable sorce to oppose the 0.08 level but all I am willing to find:

WHOA almost forgot abuot the insane anticopyrite rules here, you can check it out here:


It says that a person weighting about 140 lbs would need 3 drinks in1 hr on an empty stomach to achive 0.08

Madd sites the NHTSA for the above.

Lowering the BAC required to get a DUI is not going to help - in the majority of accidents caused by drunk driving, the BAC of the driver is far beyond .08, or even .10 - I seem to recall something about over half being .20 or higher.

Lowering it to .08 is going to get more people arrested for DUI, which will put more of a burden on the courts and have minimal benefit.

Exactly! I doubt the police are worried about .08’s out on the road, considering that’s basically a beer buzz. That is simply going to take up time that police can be using to capture REAL criminals.

The arguments for and against the current drinking age and BAC levels aside:

  1. That’s not what “irony” means, and;
  2. Even if it was, it wouldn’t be anyway, as the two have nothing to do with each other. It would be no more ironic than the fact that I am old enough to buy alcohol legally but not to collect Social Security. It’s a baseless argument; because I am old enough to do one thing does not imply I should be permitted to do all others.
  3. Although registration for Selective Service for men 18 and older has been required for some time now, ain’t nobody gettin’ drafted anytime soon anyway.


Depending on a specific individual’s degree of impairment at .08, some of them have the potential to become real criminals real fast. In general I agree that a .08 BAC is silly, but I think all stops, arrests and penalties should be made on a case-by-case basis, not based on an arbitrarily defined BAC.

My theories behind 0.08% BAC:

[ul][li]Moving the threshhold - Drivers would blow a 0.10%, but their slick lawyer would get ahold of the calibration tests and argue that the results were only accurate to maybe 0.09%.[/li]
Or, the defendant would have a blood draw for the BAC test. By law, there are two sample vials taken, so that his lawyer can have it independently tested. If it comes back less, DWI charge is lessened.

With 0.08%, even if a 0.10% is argued to a 0.09%, it’s still a DWI. And with a conviction, the state gets a drunk driver off the streets (or at least lessens his driving), plus they get his fine money.

Get drunk drivers to think about “one more for the road” - They realize the standard for DWI is stricter, so they have a second thought about drinking another beyond feeling “buzzed”. Hopefully, that little less alcohol in their body will keep them from doing something untoward on the road.[/ul]

Theory about 21 drinking age

When I was 16, it was no problem finding a friend or a friend-of-a-friend that was 18, the age to buy 3.2% beer in Colorado when I was in HS. But I would’ve been hard-pressed to find an adult (21+) to buy me anything. Then when I was 18-20, I could find friends 21 or over to buy me stronger stuff than the beer, if I really wanted.

So by having a higher age limit, you’re not really curbing the 18-20 year olds drinking, you’re curbing the under 18 crowd’s access to alcohol, which is the group that SADD and MADD really want to not drink.

To both of my above posts: I am against the federal gov’t using money pressure to force states to pass laws to their liking.

But it happens all the time, even between states. E.g., the “gay marriage” issue: IIRC, Hawaii was willing to pass such a law, which would have to be honored by other states. Through various economic arm-twistings, other states basically made Hawaii table that law until later.

Thought one: States don’t HAVE to take money from the federal government.

Thought two: I haven’t heard that raising the legal limit for purchasing alchohol has caused any problems.

Thought three: Lowering the level at which BAC will be considered conclusive evidence of impaired driving isn’t intended to reduce accidents by removing ‘drunks’; it is intended to reduce accidents by forcing people to be more cautious about alchohol consumption followed by driving, and thereby reducing the number of people whose driving is only somewhat impaired.