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Treat being under 21 like the disease it is - The Pitt News

Treat being under 21 like the disease it is

(Illustration by Raka Sarkar | Senior Staff Illustrator)

We’ve all seen them before — the people sitting almost alone at a typical restaurant and bar, interacting with a large group of people seated at a table while sitting at their own, just out of arm’s reach of their friends. They don’t have any kind of disease — not a contagious one, at least — but their state is indeed tragic.

We’ve all, at one point or another, been there ourselves — members of a massive group of people suffering from an affliction that has affected young Americans for years — being under 21.

The under-21 club is a hard one to be a member of. Often forced to sit separately from friends and colleagues at outings, being under 21 in a 21-and-over world is filled with trials. Countless times I’ve been out at lunch with friends or coworkers, all of whom were over 21 but under 25. The waiter or waitress required me to sit separately from my friends because, according to Pennsylvania state liquor laws, I, a 20-year-old woman, couldn’t be properly “supervised” by my friends, who are just a few years older than me, when they’re drinking.

A close friend or two would usually take pity on me and sacrifice their couple of drinks in order to make sure I wasn’t sitting alone. But even when my friends would pull up a chair beside me, they never missed a chance to ask me if I would like a Shirley Temple — almost always accompanied by a grin that reminded me that, as if I could forget, they were legally allowed to do something I couldn’t. And no, I would not like a Shirley Temple, thanks very much.

Of course, you’d be out of your mind to think those of us under 21 have other ways of getting alcohol, or have ever been to a party at a friend’s house while their parents were away. Clearly, the majority of underage drinking is done in the middle of the day at work-related events. The government, in conjunction with bar owners, just wants young, naive, helpless patrons to stay safe and remain law-abiding citizens — because as a 20-year-old, I’m clearly not capable of handling that myself.

Thankfully, I have the laws and regulations of the United States on my side to protect me from such reckless behavior. My friends who look to get around the rules by buying fake IDs saying they’re of drinking age don’t seem to get one thing: the system we have in place for discouraging drinking among people under 21 is obviously the simplest solution, and we have no other real options.

Since these bar and restaurant laws are so good at preventing underage drinking, lawmakers should naturally build on that success by separating citizens in more areas of life. Some people are legally allowed to drive motorcycles, some people are not. So let’s create a network of separate roads to cater to the different types of vehicles. Or how about we create designated public spaces — more than we already do — for those who smoke? We wouldn’t want people under the age of 18 to bum a cigarette off of someone and then have that person, or the owner of the land they’re standing on, be liable for any smoking-related illnesses.

This idea may seem ridiculous to some. Some may ask why we should create separate roads for people licensed to drive different vehicles, or create special areas for smokers where persons under 18 are banned if we already have plenty of roads and public spaces. Any logical person would be better off if they knew while driving, smoking or doing any other age-restricted activity that they were less of a danger to themself or to others. Secondhand smoke has caused 2.5 million non-smoker deaths since 1964, and rates of death via traffic accident in the US are on the rise.

Much like public intoxication of an underage person who got alcohol from a person of age, lawmakers could prevent the deaths of persons who started smoking under the age of 18 and motor-vehicle-accident deaths involving two different kinds of motor vehicles by simply segregating them.

With these increased segregation laws to protect those of us who would otherwise meet an untimely death due to exposure to something we aren’t old enough to have or licensed to be near, we’d be a vastly more populated society. And the productive energy produced by all of these extra people would clearly far outpace the insignificant infrastructure costs required to change all existing road systems.

There really is no other way to be sure we aren’t letting under-21s into the exclusive club of those legally allowed to drink than to enact this massive scheme of separation. When 54.5 percent of college students, according to a 2012 HerCampus survey, say they’ve had or currently have a fake ID, it’s just the necessary cost of an optimal system.

While I look forward to the day where I can sit with friends in a restaurant without being scrutinized and pushed to the side, I also cannot be more thankful for this law and others like it which prevent me from making the horrible mistakes I am bound to make. Sitting within six feet of people drinking alcohol is truly a danger to myself and others, and I do not know what I would do without restrictive laws that, like a tight seat belt, keep me out of harm’s way.

I can only hope others feel the same, and that they see my proposal to separate all people legal to do one thing from others who cannot for what it is — the most logical way to keep everyone safe.

Write to Delilah at dgb22@pitt.edu.

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