The Galleon - Portsmouth's Student Newspaper


Old enough to die for your country but not old enough to drink?

Is it time to reassess our age prohibitions for smoking, drinking and going to war?

How we measure and view age is changing. With more people living longer and populations increasing our world is filling up pretty fast. However, is it time to change at what ages people can do certain things at? When it comes to most things in the United Kingdom you have to be 18 years old to do it. However there are a few things that are limited to the ages of 16, or even 21.

In 2013, the government questioned whether the age at which you can drive should be raised to 18 featuring a probationary year under which there would be a curfew between 22:00 and 05:00 for 18 year olds. Once the year was up you would be considered a fully passed driver and have no restrictions on being able to drive. According to the proposal for the idea, 20% of traffic accidents on UK roads in 2011 were caused by drivers between 17-25 year olds. Though note that all the remaining 80% of accidents must have been caused by people 25+ years.

In the US the driving age is 16, while being able to rent a car is 25 (though some companies allow an under 25 to be named on the contract). This means that you have gained those years of practise and experience under your belt before renting a car – especially as the insurance to rent a car would be quite high otherwise. While in the UK, to rent a car you must be over 21 years old, to have had a driver’s license for a minimum of 1 year and will be limited to a selection of cars or vans as well as, if you are under 25, pay a Young Driver Surcharge.

Looking back on the proposal five years later it is interesting how it never came through. There are not many young people driving compared to other age groups, partly due to financial pressures on the age group.

But it’s safe to say that drivers should be tested again when they are older. Naturally older people begin to lack certain necessities for driving; eye sight, reaction times, dexterity, etc. It should be up to the examiners and the DVLA to ensure that drivers are not only capable once in their lives but again later to make sure everyone is safe when operating a motor vehicle.

Smoking, drinking and gambling should be held in the same regard as one another. They are all possible addictive behaviours and and should be treated seriously. Keeping the age of 18 seems fair for these practises as people who decide to partake in them are of the legal age to be considered an adult. However knowing the health risk many people would argue and insist on the age limit being increased in order to help protect young people from these things. What we need is better education in schools on sex, drugs and alcohol. By demystifying these you would naturally have less of an interest in trying them because they would not seem as foreign and ‘new’ to you.

The drinking age in the US is 21 years old. Often people are in college by this point in their lives and so they first experience legal drinking away from family and instead with people their own age. This may impact on how they drink, in terms of moderation, depending on their friends and their ability to know when to stop. Though it is highly unlikely it is the first alcoholic drink that they have had ever in their life.

Obviously different countries have different attitudes to drinking and this will also shape how young people interact with alcohol both before and after the legal drinking age. Studies have found though that growing up with parents who smoke and/or drink does not necessarily mean that the child will do the same – unlike language it is not always down to habitual learning.

The age at which people are able to vote is another one that has been called in to question recently. During the build up to the EU Referendum it was asked if 16 year olds should be able to place a vote. It was deemed that people of that age did not need to vote as they were simply not able to comprehend the vast landscape that is the world of politics. They essentially got gaslighted into silence by adults that often feared how their vote would sway the situation.

An argument for not lowering the age to vote to 16 is that most 16 year olds would waste their vote. However I feel that if schools educated students on the political process in the UK they would have a far better understanding of how it all worked and be able to make informed and rational decisions. With this in mind it seems ridiculous to not allow 16 year olds the right to vote. You are already asking a lot of them in deciding their GCSEs and A Levels, as well as swaying the decision process behind what degree they choose and university they wanted to attend.

There is also a large amount of 16 year olds in the workplace; either as part of workplace apprenticeships or simply those that have not gone to college or stayed on a sixth-form colleges post-GCSE. These people in employment pay national insurance and tax, which we expect of other ‘adults’ who have a right to vote. It appears to be a one-rule-for-some-and-another-for-everyone-else scenario. Yet there have been 16 year olds campaigning for the vote while others have admitted they do not feel politically aware enough in order to make an informed decision.

Legally you are allowed to go to war at the age of 18. This makes sense as the military relies on young, able bodied people in order to fight. My one concern is that some people see joining the military at the age of 16, instead of getting work or continuing with higher education, as an easier option. Certainly in the past the way that joining the armed forces was advertised was in turn criticised for sensationalising the job as a way of luring people in. I remember in Year 11, following an assembly where the army came in to tell us about joining them, my English teacher told us that she would mark them 100% on their use of persuasive language and that as a sale pitch it was cleverly done to misinform or hide facts. I remember her concerned face when a student told her he was going to join the army a few weeks later.

Obviously schools cannot stop you following whatever path you pick at that stage. Across the board a lot of the legal ages seem to be pretty accurate in the fact that you are defined as an adult after the age of 18 so it seems fitting that you are allowed to have all of the privileges offered in one go. Though perhaps there does need to be more education on certain topics to allow people to make fully informed and well rounded decisions.

Across the world the legal ages for a range of these activities are different. They in turn are a reflection of how young people have handled such things like alcohol consumption and learning how to drive. Though that does not necessarily mean that they are all ‘correct’ as they can differ hugely from one to another. Perhaps the perfect balance doesn’t exist. It’s difficult to define these age boundaries because the culture in different countries can contrast so much. Although, we may also need to change our attitudes toward certain behaviours and be more pragmatic and flexible about how these boundaries can change in the future.

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