Imagine that we prepared young people for driving the way we "prepare" them for drinking if they choose to do so when they become of age.
We would tell them that safe driving requires physical maturity and coordination, knowledge of rules of the road, driving experience that we wouldn't give them because they're not ready, and emotional maturity that they don't have.
Then, when they became of age, we issued them licenses and told them that it's much safer to take public transportation, that we hope they wouldn't drive, but if they do that they should be careful and try to stay out of accidents.
We should consider issuing drinking licenses to adults age 18, 19 and 20 who have completed a specified alcohol education course and who have not been found guilty of a state's alcohol laws.
Such licenses might be graduated, like learner's permits, so that restrictions could be lifted incrementally with successful compliance with all their many conditions.
What about the argument that alcohol damages young brains? Actually, there's no evidence that drinking in moderation damages developing brains. If it did most Italians, Jews, French, Greeks, Spaniards, Portuguese and many others would be suffering mental defects. And the frequently-cited research on the subject uses rats and people who are alcohol abusers - not young people who consume in moderation.
What about the fact that those who begin drinking at an early age are more likely to experience drinking problems later in life. This correlation appears to result from pre-existing personality factors that have been identified. In addition, psychologists have been able to observe pre-schoolers and predict accurately which will begin drinking earlier and later have problems.
It's time to re-think our approach to alcohol education and public policy. Part of the solution might be the issuance of drinking learner permits to qualified adults age 18, 19 and 20.