Letter Fromnthe Lower Rightnby John Shelton ReednWhy Don’t We Do It in the Road?nA pathologist who recently movednhom Vermont to North Carolina hasnwritten an article in the Americannjournal of Forensic Sciences about thenold Southern custom of lying in thenroad. The good doctor was apparentlynunacquainted with this pracdce, andnhe was upset to discover that everyncouple of weeks, on the average, onenof my fellow Tar Heels gets run overnand killed when engaged in it. Drivennby the Yankee passion to explainnthings, this fellow argues that most ofnthe fatalities are drunks looking for anwarm place to sleep it off, who haventhe misfortune to choose poorly lightedncountry roads. They don’t do thisnsort of thing in Vermont, he concludes,nbecause the roads aren’t warmnenough.nSpeaking of alcohol, my state, likenman- others, is in the process of raisingnits drinking age to 21. That strikesnme as a singularly silly thing to bendoing, but let’s gie the other side anfair hearing. Why would a reasonablenperson beliee that raising the drinkingnage is a good idea?nAs I understand it, the argument hasnsomething to do with the specter ofndrunken teenagers driving around killingnpeople, and, God knows, that’s ansobering thought. Nobody—not evennI for the sake of argument—thinksndrunk teenage drivers are a GoodnThing. Let’s get that straight, to beginnwith.nBut I’d as soon be hit by a drunknteenager as by a drunk octogenarian.nAnd isn’t the question really that ofnwhen people become adults, responsiblenfor their own behavior? Obviouslynit depends on the individual, but if wenmust have a uniersal, agreed-uponnfiction, shouldn’t it be something lessnthan 21? I read somewhere that therenused to be 17-year-old clipper-shipncaptains. If we treat 20-year-olds likenchildren, can we reasonably expectnthenT to beha’e like grown-ups? Arenwe going to extend adolescence until itnmeets middle age?nThink about it. At 18 you can joinnthe armed forces without parental con­nsent. I’ve never bought the argumentn”If they’re old enough to fight, they’renold enough to vote.” Dogs fight. But ifnthey’re old enough to fight, surelynthey’re old enough to drink. Are yountelli-ng me all those jarheads fromnCamp Lejeune are supposed to sitnaround drinking root beer?nAnd certainly if they’re old enoughnto vote, they’re old enough to drink.nThe 18-vear-old vote now enshrinednin our Constitution means we trustnthese beardless youths and gentlenmaidens to decide between Democratsnand Republicans. Why can’t we trustnthem enough to decide whether to facenthe world drunk or sober? (And givennsome of the alternatives our politicsnproduces these days, a few belts mightnhelp with that choice, too.)nBut there is the statistical argument.nApparenriy 18-, 19-, and 20-year-oldsntend more often than their elders to getndrunk and run their cars into stationarynobjects and their fellow citizens.nI’d be curious to see the statistics onn16- and 17-year-olds. I’ll bet that theynkill themselves and others pretty often,ntoo, with or without the assistance ofnliquor. This suggests an alternativensolution, one more consistent and, tonme at least, more philosophically satisfying:nRaise the driving age. At 18, letnpeople drink, drive, vote, enlist, getnmarried, go to the gas chambern—pretend, that is, that they’re grownupnhuman beings.nBut my real objection to North Carolina’snraising its drinking age has to donwith why we’re doing it. We are notndoing it for the good indigenous reasonnthat a lot of our citizens think liquor isnthe Devil’s brew. Our legislators ignorednthat sentiment readily enoughnwhen they approved local option onnliquor-by-the-drink to appeal to touristsnand conventioneers too dumb tonfigure out how brown bagging works.nNo, our drinking age is being raisednbecause our Federal highway fundsnwill be cut if it isn’t.nThis is being done by the samenlegislators who recentiy passed a lawnrequiring the use of seat belts innautomobiles—not because they werenconvinced that the previous absence ofnsuch a requirement was a mistake, butnbecause some unelected bureaucratsnin Ronald Reagan’s Department ofnTransportation threatened to put explodingnbags in the front seats of ourncars if they didn’t. Roughly the samenFederales decided a few years ago thatnNorth Carolina’s school buses werenthe wrong color. When they threatenednto cut off our welfare if we didn’tnrepaint them, our state officials rollednover for that one, too.nThis craven capitulation to Federalndispleasure is getting out of hand, andnI think the drinking age is as good anplace as any to draw the line. Yes, Inknow the Yankees have the Bombnnow, but what the heck—let’s makenthem use it. Where is the patriot to tellnWashington to take its highway moneynand go to hell? Where is the PatricknHenry to say we’ve already got toondamn many highways? If we buildnmore, folks will just lie in them.n]ohn Shelton Reed comments on publicnpolicy from the security of a tenurednposition at the University ofnNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill.nMOVING?nLET US KNOW BEFORE YOU GO!nTo assure uninterrupted delivery ofnChronicles, please notify us in advance.nSend change of address on this form withnthe mailing label from your latest issue ofnChronicles to: Subscription Department,nChronicles, P.O. Box 800, Mount Morris,nIllinois 61054.nName_nAddress.nCitynnnState. _Zip_nOCTOBER 1986/43n