MADD Has Become “a Tastless Joke,” According to Study Author

You were told here about a study published in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion that argues California should lower its drinking age for beer and wine to 18 and set up a system of low-alcohol bars. Mike Males, the study's author and senior researcher at the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, based that finding on statistical analysis that suggests such a move would reduce violent deaths among 18-20 year-olds by 9 percent.

As indicated in our post, the “Should California Reconsider Its Drinking Age?” study drew a heavy rebuke from Gail Butler, executive director of Orange County's Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) chapter. Butler distrusted the study's findings, countered that MADD's reading of the stats shows deaths among 18-20 years olds dropped when California raised the drinking age to 21 and was adamant that young people under 21 are not physically or mentally equipped to handle alcohol. 

Well, Males has his a sharp response of his own — to MADD's response to his study.


I joined MADD when it first started nearly 30 years ago and was doing real good. But today, it has become a dogmatic and destructive organization, and their 19th century prejudices now represent a danger to reasoned alcohol policies. MADD's claim that it is protecting young lives and minds is a tasteless joke.

Today, Centers for Disease Control, California Center for Health Statistics, and California Highway Patrol figures show the nation and California are suffering by far the worst combined drug and alcohol abuse crises in our history among both teens and adults all the way into middle age. Fatal DWI crashes have skyrocketed by 40 percent in California since 1999 among all age groups, reaching over 1,600 in 2006. Binge drinking and heavy drinking have also soared, with a record 60 million Americans now bingeing regularly. Among 23 Western nations, only Finland suffers a higher level of alcohol-related deaths than the United States. Deadly drunk driving crashes remain twice as high per capita in the U.S. than in car cultures like Canada and Australia, which permit drinking at age 18.

We need dynamic new research on alcohol problems to replace deadly myths, yet MADD and allied lobbies continue to indulge crowd-pleasing crack-down-on-youth rhetoric and refuse even to consider new ideas that challenge century-old dogmas. The unique system of low-alcohol bars that existed in 11 states, and which MADD opposes out of hand, has not been studied to date, even though it was connected to low rates of teenaged and young-adult alcohol-related fatality — which increased in all of these states, without exception, since they were forced by federal pressures to raise their drinking ages to 21.

Males ends by offering a challenge:

I'd be glad to debate anyone from MADD either online or the next time I'm in California.

To clarify: While Males is the senior researcher at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, he is based in Oklahoma City, where he is the principal investigator and content director at , which “is dedicated to providing factual information on youth issues such as crime, violence, sex, drugs, drinking, social behaviors, education, civic engagement, attitudes, media, and whatever the latest teen terror du jour arises.”  

Males attained his Ph.D. in social ecology from UCI in 1999, has authored four books on American youth (including Framing Youth: Ten Myths about the Next Generation and The Scapegoat Generation: America's War on Adolescents), and taught sociology at UC Santa Cruz for five years. He's also published articles in Scribner's Encyclopedia on Violence in America, The Lancet, American Journal of Public Health, Journal of School Health, Los Angeles TimesNew York Times and, most impressively, OC Weekly.

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