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Safer highways? More states up drinking age

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* In Michigan, liquor-related car crashes involving teen-agers dropped 18 percent in 1979. * In Massachusetts, fatal alcohol-connected highway accidents among teen-agers declined 18.5 percent during the past two years.

These improved safety records are credited in at least some quarters to passage of state laws raising the minimum legal drinking age.

Despite continuing, sometimes vigorous, resistance from civil libertarians and others who would not deny young adults access to liquor, at least a dozen states in the past five years have banned alcoholic beverages for 18-year-olds, and -- in some places -- 19- and 20-year-olds as well.

In the past 12 months, four states -- Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, and Rhode Island -- increased the legal drinking ages for all types of liquor. And a fifth state, Virginia, has greatly restricted beer sales to 18-year-olds.

The Virginia measure, signed into law Feb. 21 by Gov. John Dalton, forbids anyone under 19 from buying beer at liquor package stores. Other types of alcoholic beverages remain out of bounds for all 18- through 20-year-olds in the state.

Some 48 other proposals for lowering the legal drinking age by at least one year have been under consideration in 1981 legislative sessions in 22 states from Vermont to Hawaii.

More than half of these measuress still are alive, although only a few appear to have made much progress.

In Texas, two bills to hike the age minimum from 18 to 19 are before a conference committee assigned to work out differences.

The Vermont House of Representatives similarly has approved a drinking age measure, but one that the state Senate seems unlikely to go along with since it would ban 18-year-olds from drinking at home but permit them to be served liquor at bars. The latter inconsistency was inserted by its foes in hopes of scuttling the bill. Despite their efforts, however, the legislation cleared the Vermont House on a 73-to-72 roll call.

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